24 September 2009. Advocacy for Alzheimer disease is starting to bite. Only three days after World Alzheimer’s Day brought alarming new prevalence estimates (see ARF related news story), another advocacy meeting is unfolding today at the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium in Washington, DC. Intended to press lawmakers to boost research funding for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the Rock Stars of Science Briefing brings together leaders in AD research and funding with members of Congress, media personalities, and representatives of the Alzheimer’s Association and other advocacy organizations.
This past June, one of these organizations, the ACT-AD Coalition, sponsored a poll about public attitudes regarding the urgency of AD in general and the speed of drug approval in particular. Reforming the FDA’s drug evaluation process for experimental AD drugs to include advances in early detection and biomarker research has been a focus of ACT-AD’s activities for some time (see ARF related conference story), and at today’s meeting, the results of this poll were presented as the latest ammunition in this debate.
Conducted jointly by Lake Research Partners and American Viewpoint, Democratic and Republican public opinion research firms, respectively, the survey reached 2,600 likely voters. Overall, it found that three quarters of Americans consider finding prevention or a cure for AD personally important to them. About as many said they want Congress to speed up the FDA’s review process as a matter of national priority. According to an ACT-AD press release, half of all respondents supported a dramatic change whereby the FDA should “make available all possible Alzheimer’s treatments and allow patients and doctors to decide about risks and benefits”; another 28 percent believe promising AD drugs should be fast-tracked as are some drugs for life-threatening diseases such as cancer and AIDS. The underlying notion is that AD should be viewed as a life-threatening disease, not, as is commonly thought, merely as an ailment accompanying aging. In this poll, 15 percent were in favor of the FDA continuing its current drug evaluation procedures for AD.
The survey also probed whether these issues mattered enough to people to influence their vote come election time. Rather ominously for some politicians, perhaps, 63 percent said they’d favor a candidate who openly supported urging the FDA to speed up its process, and 49 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who came out against this stance.
“Congressional efforts such as The Senate Subcommittee on Aging, as well as FDA leaders, have worked with the Alzheimer’s community…in recent years to explore a national response,” the press release quotes ACT-AD chairman Dan Perry. “But the lack of real voter demand has allowed these initiatives to lag. That so many voters across the country and across the political spectrum now see Alzheimer’s as a priority may mean that this disease finally has the kind of momentum that our leaders must respond to.”
The briefing at the Capitol also featured panel discussions with, among others, The Rock Stars of Science. Far from being all talks and numbers, though, the program lightened up with two musical performances—one by the singer Delta Goodrem, who survived cancer, and one by Joe Perry of Aerosmith fame and bassist David Hull with Rudy Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Francis Collins, who directs the National Institutes of Health.—Gabrielle Strobel.