Are health systems ready for new Alzheimer’s diagnostics and treatments?

13 August 2020 – New research highlights the need for advances and improved preparedness in health systems before Alzheimer’s treatments are widely accessible.

Two new reports, sponsored by Roche and conducted by the Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences were recently launched at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2020) last month, and highlight the challenges faced by health systems in the United States and five European countries to ensure preparedness for potentially imminent Alzheimer’s biomarker and treatment breakthroughs.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias present a unique complexity and challenge in diagnosis and treatment, enhanced by the progressive nature of the condition. It necessitates many different clinicians and planners to work in collaboration, through the diagnostic pathway and into treatment, to ensure health systems are ready for breakthroughs in both. Last year, pharmaceutical companies Biogen and Green Valley announced promising results to stage 3 Alzheimer’s disease drug trials and have since applied for market approval. Moreover, a recent study has revealed progress towards a new blood biomarker for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. This gives hope to people globally, potentially opening the door to less invasive, less costly and timely diagnosis, plus opening up potential treatment options currently lacking. However, it asks truly challenging questions of how prepared healthcare systems are to embrace breakthroughs in both diagnosis and treatment, what the barriers are and how to overcome them.

COVID-19 has sharply demonstrated two things which have implications for a future dementia treatment. Firstly, even the world’s most advanced health systems can quickly become overwhelmed by sudden increases in demand. Secondly, improved public awareness of just how long clinical breakthroughs can take, and the steps needed in the meantime to ensure they can be distributed effectively.

According to this new research, the biggest health system barriers likely to impede access to treatment are related to shortcomings in diagnostic tools: funding, including the need for investments in diagnostics; challenges around the resource of primary care physicians, who often lack time and training, for diagnosis; and a pronounced gap between supply and demand for PET scanners.

ADI’s Chief Executive Paola Barbarino said: “We have seen the devastating effects of COVID-19 on our constituency of people living with dementia, and it brings into sharp relief the global need for healthcare system preparedness for dementia. It is with great hope that we await both diagnostic and treatment breakthroughs, but it is vital that all parties are working collaboratively to ensure that the benefits of both can be quickly and broadly felt by a global community of people who have been waiting so long for good news. It is all of our duties to ensure that systems are ready.”

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