The frenzied pace of medical innovation was much in evidence at the Fourth Annual Galien Forum on Tuesday, at New York City’s Alexandria Center for Life Sciences. The world’s leading pharmaceutical researchers gathered to discuss the recent, significant advances in their understanding of human cellular biology, which hold out hope that doctors will be able to more effectively attack the scourges of Alzheimer’s, cancer, and diabetes in the not too distant future.
Translating research progress - accelerated by scientists’ sequencing of the human genome at the turn of the 21st century - into scalable, affordable treatments won’t be easy. And the CEOs of three of the world’s biggest drugmakers warned that overregulation might negatively impact the massive research and development budgets required to fuel further advances.
Nevertheless, the vibe in the auditorium - e.g., panelists in one session engaged in an animated defense of the amyloid hypothesis - could fairly be characterized as the doctors’ version of the dawn of the personal computer era. (For more on the latter, see “Geeky Old Men: Steve Wozniak, Homebrew Computer Club Plan Night of PC Nostalgia.”).
Biological research is probably ascendant because we’re amid a perfect storm of scientific ferment coupled with an upcoming, exponential rise in the population of patients who will need treatment. Introducing his panel on neurodegenerative disease drug progress, Dr. Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of The Rockefeller University, pointed to data from the Alzheimer’s Association, which projects that the number of Americans aged 65 or older with the disease will rise from 5.2 million today to 13.8 million in 2050. That’ll translate into $1.2 trillion (in current dollars) in annual healthcare costs.
Tessier-Lavigne noted that medicine doesn’t currently have effective treatments (i.e., cures) for Alzheimer’s and the other significant neurodegenerative diseases Parkinson’s and ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease).