WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton released a plan Tuesday to more than double federal funding for Alzheimer’s research to $2 billion annually, with the goal of finding an effective treatment and possibly a cure for the disease by 2025.
Congress formally endorsed a 2025 goal for a treatment in 2010, and Clinton’s campaign says her plan would provide the necessary funding to make it happen.
“I think we have to set some goals if we’re going to try to confront this disease,” she said at a town hall in Fairfield, Iowa, on Tuesday afternoon.
Alzheimer’s disease is currently the No. 6 cause of death in the United States, and there is no proven medicine to prevent, cure, or slow it. More than 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with the condition, with that number projected to nearly triple to 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
At the Iowa event, Clinton emphasized that her plan would provide reliable funding for research, citing the example of the recent across-the-board federal budget cuts that she said resulted in research “stopped midstream.”
Clinton also noted that women, African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“We can get payoff in this in ways that right now we can’t even imagine,” she said.
The plan is Clinton’s most detailed proposal to date on how to make progress in treating serious diseases. Vice President Joe Biden has his own ambitious research priority — a “moonshot” program to end cancer – and helped push Congress for a $264 million funding increase for the National Cancer Institute in the federal spending bill President Obama signed into law on Friday.
The Alzheimer’s Association has projected that the disease could cost the United States up to $1 trillion per year by 2050.
Clinton’s proposal also calls for creating a strategic plan that cuts across government, academia, and the private sector, as well as a pledge to pursue better policies for care-management and care-planning services under Medicare.
The National Institutes of Health devoted $586 million to Alzheimer’s research this year, up from $448 million in 2011. The federal spending bill President Obama signed into law on Friday will boost that amount by $350 million, one of the biggest increases in years — but the Clinton proposal “would build on this commitment and rapidly ramp up our investment” to $2 billion a year.
On a conference call organized by the Clinton campaign, Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a neurology professor at the Harvard Medical School and a leading Alzheimer’s researcher, lauded the proposal, telling reporters that the pursuit of an Alzheimer’s treatment was “budget-constrained, not knowledge-constrained.”
He said recent breakthroughs have added to his optimism that serious advancement is possible in the next 10 years. The biggest developments, he said, include scientists growing the amyloid protein that contributes to Alzheimer’s in human stem cells; medical imaging of the long build-up of amyloid in the brain before Alzheimer’s symptoms show up; and research on the role of inflammation in worsening the symptoms.
“I’m optimistic. I think that our main bottleneck in this field has been funding,” Tanzi said.
Most scientists, however, caution against promising “cures” for serious diseases — arguing that the most realistic strategy for many conditions is to make as much incremental progress as possible, rather than expecting major breakthroughs.
Meanwhile, the government will spend close to $6 billion on cancer research, roughly $1.2 billion on heart disease and about $3 billion on HIV. That last figure, in particular, rankles Alzheimer’s advocates, since fewer than 15,000 Americans with AIDS die annually.
There are four drugs currently on the market, said Dr. Samuel Gandy, the director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and a longtime Alzheimer’s disease researcher.
“And none of them work well,” he said. “By 18 months into the illness, people are at the same place whether they got the drug or not.”
Gandy said there are currently three major clinical studies for Alzheimer’s treatments. They cost about $100 million each, he said, “because the disease moves relatively slowly compared to infections or epilepsy, where you can test people for weeks. A prevention trial will take at least five years, with 1,000 or more people in the study.”
While that kind of funding is available for diseases that kill younger people, like AIDS and cancer, Gandy said, it hasn’t found its way to the Alzheimer’s community.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of federal spending on cancer research.
This story has been updated with Clinton’s comments at an Iowa town hall.