In the next 40 years, the world will see tremendous changes in demographics. The elderly population will double in Western countries, triple in Asia and quadruple in Africa. By 2025 more than 20% of Europeans will be 65 or over, with a particularly rapid increase in the number of over 80s. Greater life expectancy is clearly an achievement to celebrate, but if Europeans are living longer, that also means we are at increased risk of developing some physical, sensory and mental diseases during our lives.
The World Alzheimer Report estimates that 46.8 million people lived with dementia worldwide in 2015. Each new case represents someone’s life and the lives of those close to them being turned upside down, as they go from diagnosis to learning how to cope with new challenges. Unfortunately, there is still no cure.
The commitment of policy makers in all European Union countries to support people living with dementia, coupled with the investments in research, science and innovation that we make now, will define the kind of care and opportunities we afford ourselves and generations to come.
The European Commission’s Communication on Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, adopted in 2009, calls on EU Member States to work together to ensure early diagnosis, better knowledge and coordination of research and best practices for care and respect of the rights of people with dementia. To help EU countries in this regard, the Commission supports Joint Actions (EU co-financed cooperation) with Member States and experts under the EU Health Programme which are aimed at improving diagnosis and post-diagnostic services, care, and at fostering dementia-friendly communities.
The Commission has also set up a Group of Governmental Experts on Dementia – a platform for EU countries to exchange experiences and good practices. Furthermore, the Commission supports global activities initiated by the G7 countries and by the World Health Organization, e.g. the establishment of a Global Dementia Observatory, which will pool information on dementia and policies to address it.
The EU has also invested almost €600 million into research on neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's, under its 7th Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP7), running from 2007 to 2013. Under Horizon 2020, the current research and innovation funding scheme, already around €143 million go to research projects on dementia. These projects are trying to answer crucial questions, such as whether we can delay physiological aging of the brain, how we can prevent age-related brain disorders, and if we can reverse diseases such as Alzheimer's.
This EU investment is already making a difference for the sufferers. For example, the project LIPIDIDIET, completed in 2015, developed a vitamin drink that could help preserve memory and slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
We may be able to further delay brain ageing once we understand better how the brain works. That's why a large investment of €1 billion over 10 years is going to the Human Brain Project (HBP), an ICT-based research infrastructure bringing together neuroscientists, computer experts and researchers in brain-related medicine.
We are also making every effort to mobilise stakeholders, in particular through research partnerships such as the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI2). Working with a total budget of €3.3 billion, the Commission and the pharmaceutical industry have joined forces in IMI2 to accelerate drug development. Six out of the first nine IMI2 calls including €75 million committed by the EU have addressed brain research.
Other partnerships aim to make the best use of public money by overcoming fragmentation of national research efforts. For example, the Joint Programming Initiative on Neurodegenerative Diseases (JPND) comprises 30 countries including Canada and Australia and has invested about €110 million since 2010, including €10 million from the Commission. We also contribute to the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD).
Alzheimer's and other dementia are global challenges which require global solutions. More cooperation is needed on a global scale. Throughout the world, many large-scale brain initiatives worth over €5.3 billion have been created in recent years. We need to ensure that all these initiatives, together, boost global progress and impact.
So today, on 21 September - a very apt date to promote collaboration on Alzheimer's Disease - we would like to call upon national governments, researchers, patients’ organisations, medical professionals, the pharmaceutical industry and others concerned to continue their efforts and actively support the ongoing initiatives at EU level. Only by joining forces will we be able to face the challenge of Alzheimer's Disease.
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