Hope and Success for a Healthy America

Hope and Success for a Healthy America

12.17.12 | By Rick Smith

Back when I was a kid it was common, sadly, for people in their middle ages to suffer from fatal heart attacks or debilitating strokes. These tragedies still occur all too frequently, but we have made great strides in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases thanks in part to the use of cholesterol-lowering statins. In fact, a recent study found that statin therapy reduced LDL, or so called "bad cholesterol," levels by an average of 19% among individuals who used these drugs. The authors of the study - which we've highlighted in this month's Rx Minute newsletter - found that this reduction in LDL levels led to tens of thousands of fewer deaths and hospitalizations associated with heart attacks and strokes in 2008 alone - translating to a gross savings of nearly $5 billion. And the authors recommend that policymakers focus on initiatives that would promote better use of statins, as more deaths could be averted and costs saved with more appropriate use of these medicines.

The story of statins also underscores the urgency with which we must confront the significant healthcare challenges that we still face - we need more success stories like this.

Looking ahead, Alzheimer's disease looms large. Nowhere is the need for a solution more acute. Alzheimer's currently affects 5.4 million Americans and, although we have made some progress in treating the symptoms of the disease, it is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed. Finding a treatment that slows the progression of Alzheimer's by five years would reduce the expected number of people in the severe stage of the disease by over 65% and save nearly $200 billion a year by 2050.

Unfortunately, the path to new drug treatments is extremely complex, especially in the case of Alzheimer's where only 1 in 35 research projects have succeeded in developing a new medicine since 1998. However, researchers from two independent groups, whose studies (studies are here and here) are also both featured in this month's Rx Minute newsletter, have identified a new genetic risk factor linked to the development of late-onset Alzheimer's - the most common form of the disease. This research not only points to a new potential pathway for developing treatments to change the course of the disease, but also provides new hope to researchers committed to finding a cure to this devastating disease.

I would love to someday be able to look back at the history of Alzheimer's disease and see the same transformation we have seen in treating and preventing cardiovascular disease since I was a kid.

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