Report | The incredible challenge of diagnosing a silent disease: Alzheimer's
To mark World Alzheimer's Day, we spoke to Marta Barrachina, founder and CEO of ADmit Therapeutics, one of our partners who is seeking a way to perform an early diagnosis of this silent disease
Let's start with some data to understand the importance of a day like today. The number of people with dementia is increasing rapidly. The Spanish Society of Neurology points out that between 30 and 40% of the total number of cases of Alzheimer's disease are undiagnosed in Spain. Furthermore, estimates suggest that 80% of the cases that are still mild have also not been identified. According to the World Health Organization, there are 50 million cases in the world, or in other words, more than the population of Spain. However, it is estimated that this figure will triple by 2050 due to the increase in life expectancy.
In the face of these staggering figures, AseBio's partner ADmit Therapeutics is working tirelessly towards a diagnostic method to detect this disease as early as possible. Marta Barrachina, the CEO and founder of the company, which has obtained €5 million of private and public funding, explained that they are working on a method for early diagnosis based on blood samples, in order to be able to predict which patients are likely to develop the disease, and which are not. From there, their product could help offer a personalised treatment for the patient in the earliest stages of the disease, starting at 55 years old, and even help prove a drug's effectiveness.
But the path is by no means straightforward. Barrachina highlights barriers that she calls "natural" which means that there is still no effective treatment to cure the disease. For any company that is working on Alzheimer's, whether in diagnostics or drugs, the difficulty is that the patient may have had it for 10 to 20 years without showing any symptoms. "You don't have the information when their illness begins, and that makes it very difficult for us," she says. "Furthermore, since they have had the disease for so many years, it has affected their brain a great deal. And that has an impact on the effectiveness of the drugs being studied," she adds.
Beta-amyloid is the key, the indicator which all the experts are relying on in their attempts to find a solution. However, as the expert explains, radioimaging to detect the protein is expensive, invasive and can lead to false positives, because people do not develop the disease simply due to that protein being present in their brain. "It also appears as a result of healthy ageing," she says. The costs for healthcare systems around the world are very high for these reasons, and because it is impossible to fight against this disease. Barrachina says that "if all the expenses incurred by patients worldwide are added together (hospitalisation, treatment, care, etc.), the total is higher than the profits made by Google and Apple."
It is currently difficult to cut these costs. "Neurologists work with diagnostic criteria dating from the 1980s," says Barrachina, and no progress seems to have been made in this area. "Our neurologist feels frustrated at not being able to cure his patients," she insists.
Biotechnology seems to be the only way to counter this "lack of progress". The company ADmit Therapeutics was established in 2017, and aims to have a method that can clear this congestion by 2023, and raise the profile of what has to date been a silent disease. The solution will take the form of medical software. The company, which has a staff of eight people, uses DNA sequencing to analyse patients' blood samples in order to identify chemical changes. They use this data to develop a predictive algorithm to enter to a software package. Then, this mechanism will issue a diagnostic report with a range for the likelihood of the individual developing Alzheimer's disease.
"We want to be able to say whether or not the patient will have the disease, and to be able to set a treatment plan as soon as possible," she adds. Their solution may help improve the selection of patients for trials, help find a drug, and after one has been obtained, the test will "enable precision medicine to cure patients or stop the disease's progression." In short, Marta Barrachina remains confident that breakthroughs in the fight against this disease will soon take place.
By Agathe Cortes
At AseBio, more than 10 partners work in this area:
Treatment research/drug development:
Plataformas de screening en enfermedades del sistema nervioso central:
Development of products to diagnose the disease:
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