Neurological disorders are the leading cause of disability in the world, and Parkinson’s disease — which can present movement problems, mood disorders and cognitive impairment — is the fastest growing, surpassing the growth rate of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a viewpoint published last month in JAMA Neurology.
The authors, two leading researchers from the University of Rochester and Radboud University in the Netherlands, cite estimates that between 6 million and 7 million people are living with Parkinson’s today, with projections of global prevalence twice that number by 2040. The numbers may be even higher, due to underreporting and an aging population. In fact, the authors go so far as to call Parkinson’s a “pandemic.”
Federal funding, largely deployed through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), already has been invaluable in the pursuit of Parkinson’s cures. Our Foundation is partnering with the agency on a number of initiatives, including a collaboration with industry partners to enable sophisticated molecular profiling of precious Parkinson’s disease biosamples. The sample library includes blood and cerebrospinal fluid collected over several years through the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, sponsored by our Foundation since 2010.
Yet there is room to do better for those living with (or at risk for) Parkinson’s disease. Not only would a national, multi-agency Parkinson’s project plan (similar to plans that have previously been devised in Alzheimer’s, cancer and HIV) serve people with the disease, but it’s a smart investment given the burden our government faces in the future. Parkinson’s disease already is estimated to cost our country between $19.8 billion and $26.4 billion per year. Spending on Medicare and Medicaid alone, just for those with Parkinson’s, will explode as diagnoses rise, and the NIH budget of $34.1 billion is simply not enough given the prevalence of various diseases.
To put it into perspective, Medicare spends $31 billion annually caring for people who fall – that spending nearly matches our entire federal investment in medical research, and it’s spending that would drop dramatically if we develop better treatments and, ultimately, cures. Taking a fresh look at how federal research funds are coordinated and spent for impact could provide valuable insight into how best to fund medical research in the 21st century.
Our Foundation stands ready to support collaborative strategies to end this disease. We have funded $750 million in research ourselves. We exist to leverage federal investment in basic science and help bridge the gap — getting more good ideas into clinical testing. As government does more, we can do more, and together we can accelerate real results to patients and their families. We have been proud to testify before key subcommittees and the Presidential Commission on Bioethics, and to partner with key federal agencies and others where we’ve witnessed an increased appetite to work with organizations like ours, poised to partner effectively with government, with a track record of innovation and impact. We hope to continue serving in this way.
The JAMA Neurology viewpoint underscores a new level of urgency in the battle against Parkinson’s disease. We face a pandemic, and we should treat it as one.
Todd Sherer, Ph.D., is the CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.