Thurmont, Md. Federal researchers will get an additional $50 million during the next five years for research into prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, including the potential for a vaccine, the White House said Sunday.
Former President Reagan's daughter Maureen Reagan, an activist in the fight against the disease her father suffers from, welcomed the announcement but said much more is needed. The organization Maureen Reagan represents, the Alzheimer's Association, wants $100 million for research this year.
"The disease just gets worse every day," she said on CNN's "Late Edition." Asked how the former president is faring, she said, "When I say not so good, Alzheimer's families know what I'm talking about."
Specifically, the White House was announcing a request for research proposals that will total $50 million over five years. Chris Jennings, White House health policy adviser, explained that Congress is certain to fund at least this much Alzheimer's research, based on President Clinton's budget request and the popularity of the issue.
The money will help build on preliminary findings made public last week about the search for a vaccine against the progressive, degenerative brain disease that afflicts 4 million Americans. The aging of the baby boom generation will push the total to 14 million by 2050.
Research "provides new hope not only for Americans who are at risk for developing Alzheimer's disease in the future but for those who are already in its early stages," Clinton said in a statement from Camp David, Md., where he is attending a summit conference with Middle East leaders.
A pharmaceutical company said last week that preliminary results from the first human study of a possible Alzheimer's vaccine suggest the experimental compound is safe. Scientists said it is far too soon to tell if the vaccine will do patients any good.
Elan Pharmaceuticals' experimental vaccine raised hopes last year when the company discovered that, in mice, the compound could ward off and even reduce the brain-clogging plaque that is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
Elan has begun small studies in people to see if the vaccine is safe. If so, the company hopes to launch larger studies, possibly by the end of 2001, to test whether the vaccine might slow progression of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease disrupts the way the brain works, affecting the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. Neither the cause nor the cure has been found.
Currently, one in 10 people over the age of 65 and as many as half those over 85 have Alzheimer's.
The disease costs the American health care system as much as $100 billion a year, the White House said. The average lifetime cost of caring for a patient with Alzheimer's disease has been estimated at $174,000.
"It is more clear than ever that the nation must continue its strong bipartisan support for biomedical research on the causes, treatments, and cures for Alzheimer's disease and other diseases affecting millions of Americans," Clinton said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala was asked on CNN whether the Clinton administration is stepping up its attack on Alzheimer's partly because of pressure from Republicans in Congress who have complained that Clinton was doing too little.
"The parties have been competing with each other to put more money into basic research, into clinical trials, particularly into these prevention efforts," she said.
"Anything we can do in the prevention area both here and abroad makes a difference."
On the Net: Alzheimer's Association site: www.alz.org