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Alzheimer's R&D funding should double, witness says

Alzheimer's disease plaque. (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine photo/James Eberwine)
Alzheimer's disease plaque. (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine photo/James Eberwine)

The growing cost of care for people with dementia could be as grave of a world health threat as AIDS or tuberculosis, and U.S. health research budget planners should remember that when allocating funding.

Witnesses representing people with Alzheimer's, drug companies, care providers and large employers made that case earlier this week at a hearing on dementia organized by the House Foreign Affairs global health subcommittee.

The committee organized the hearing in response to a recent summit meeting of the G-8 -- a group for the world's richest countries -- on dementia.

George Vradenburg, chairman of USAgainstAlzheimer's, a business coalition that includes the big drug companies and Bank of America, said the United States should double spending on Alzheimer's research to $1 billion, from $500 million today, and commit to spending about 1 percent of the total cost of Alzheimer's on dementia-related biomedical research.

Today, the United States spends only about 0.3 percent of that amount on dementia research and development (R&D) efforts, Vradenburg said.

Another witness, Harry Johns, president of the Alzheimer's Association, said the United States and other countries already have made similar commitments to fighting other conditions, and that the global fight against AIDS has helped lead to great improvements in care.

Throughout the world, care for people with dementia costs about $600 billion per year or 1 percent of the world's total gross domestic product, Johns said.

"If dementia were a country, it would be the 18th largest economy globally," Johns said. 

Witnesses conceded that rich countries spend more on dementia care today, but they said the cost of dementia care is also a growing financial burden in poor countries.

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