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By Paulo Fontoura, global head and senior vice president neuroscience, immunology, ophthalmology, infectious and rare diseases at Roche

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating condition that threatens to erode the very foundation of what makes us who we are. I personally understand the devastation Alzheimer’s can cause, having watched my grandmother gently, but inexorably, decline as she journeyed down the path of dementia. The impact on my grandfather, her lifelong companion, was equally hard to see. I am thankful that, in some ways, my grandmother had a better experience than most, but was saddened as her capacity to have an independent life diminished and frustrated with the lack of therapeutic options.

Alzheimer’s is one of the most significant public health challenges we face today. It is the most common form of dementia, affecting 50 million people worldwide — a figure that is expected to triple by 2050. And despite having been at the forefront of discussions within the scientific, clinical, and patient communities for many years, the disease has eluded scientists for so long.

At Roche and Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, we are pursuing groundbreaking science in Alzheimer’s to better understand not just the symptoms of the disease, but the root causes. Setbacks and disappointments have been intrinsic to this process. Nevertheless, we have never lost sight of our vision for people with Alzheimer’s and their families. Our goal has always been, and will always be, to help transform the disease, one step at a time.

Learning from setbacks

It has become clear that every so-called “setback” or “failure” forms a crucial part of setting the stage for future success. For example, when our first clinical trials with an investigational molecule in Alzheimer’s disease did not yield the results we had hoped, our scientists were extremely disappointed. But with the benefit of hindsight, that same trial led us to identify improved biomarkers. This would not have been achieved without that initial “failure.”

Other “failures” also drove us to work more closely with people living with the disease, as well as academics and regulators, to create new clinical research tools and collaborate on clinical trials. All of this work made it possible to take our next steps boldly.

The path forward

Scientific advancement is rarely linear — it is iterative, cumulative, and hard-won. As each piece of new understanding is realized, the puzzle of how Alzheimer’s progresses becomes clearer. In turn, we can begin to effectively target the biology of the disease to slow, and maybe one day halt, its progression.

At Roche and Genentech, we will continue to play our part in evolving the science with the hope that we can address one of the most significant challenges in neuroscience today. Currently, we have three investigational Alzheimer’s treatments in clinical development across our portfolio — but we also recognize the importance of a broad approach and looking beyond the medicine.

Our team of scientists is also investigating innovative tools to improve access to timelier, more accurate, and more affordable ways to detect, diagnose, and monitor the disease. We have over 70 collaborations with academics, government groups, advocacy groups, and other non-profits, and we are proud to be part of the recently announced Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative, a multi-stakeholder collaboration to help accelerate progress in research, prevention, and care.

I am optimistic that, with continued persistence, we can achieve what we always set out to do — help transform the lives of people affected by this complex disease and their loved ones, for my grandparents and yours.

Learn more about how Roche and Genentech are tackling Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.