Policy, Scientific

Out: NIH budget cuts. In: Alzheimer’s R&D as lawmakers boost proposed ’19 spending to $2.3B

The US Senate is feeling generous toward medical researchers, and that may soon translate into a big hike in spending on Alzheimer’s research — the most frustrating field in R&D today.

Lawmakers passed a 2019 budget proposal on Thursday that gives the NIH a 5% bump in its budget, with an extra $425 million directed specifically at Alzheimer’s. That would give the agency $2.3 billion for Alzheimer’s, which the AP notes is four times as much as what the NIH spent on the memory wasting disease four years ago.

The added Alzheimer’s spending represents a big chunk of the $2 billion senators want to add to the NIH budget for fiscal 2019. Altogether they voted 85 to 7 in support of the budget bill.

The increased federal spending is being driven by two simple realities: The growing cost of the disease that afflicts millions and the apparent helplessness by most developers to bend the course of Alzheimer’s. The steady drumbeat of clinical failures over a decade-plus leaves patients with no effective therapies while the only claimed success by Biogen and Eisai has been swamped by controversy and a growing disenchantment with the amyloid beta theory.

Now researchers are going ever earlier in trying to slow or stop disease progression, while adding new targets like tau and looking to attack Alzheimer’s with combination therapies. This new NIH money could provide a major boost to the new thinking in the field.

It’s not a done deal, with Senate and House representatives slated to hash out all the details in upcoming negotiations. But it underscores an immense amount of support in congress for added research spending.

“Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America and, without a breakthrough, by 2050 we’ll spend $1.1 trillion treating people with Alzheimer’s each year — twice as much as the annual defense budget,” said Missouri Senator Roy Blunt in a statement. “This bill not only meets, but surpasses the $2 billion research goal of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.”


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