Clinical Trials Are Critical for Improved Alzheimer’s Care

  • Expert Advice
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Samantha-Budd-Haeberlein

As the Vice President of Clinical Trial Development at Biogen, Samantha Budd Haeberlein, PhD, leads the company’s worldwide clinical trials on Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Haeberlein recently spoke with BrightFocus Foundation, whose Alzheimer’s Disease Research program currently supports 133 research projects worldwide.


BrightFocus: Why are clinical trials for Alzheimer’s so important?

Haeberlein: Clinical trials are incredibly important for any area of medicine that is seeking to find new treatments to improve the lives of patients. In Alzheimer’s disease, we have no treatments that stop or slow the disease, so right now, these clinical trials potentially are the first place that patients could be involved in something that could revolutionize that situation.

BrightFocus: Do you think there’s enough awareness in the public about the opportunities to participate in Alzheimer’s trials?

Haeberlein: There’s definitely an awareness of being involved in clinical trials, but perhaps it’s not as high as it could be in Alzheimer’s disease. If we think that when somebody is diagnosed, tragically, with some form of cancer, it seems that it’s more common that the medical profession and even the patient may then say, “Well, what about a clinical trial?” if a treatment isn’t directly available for them. But in Alzheimer’s disease, we don’t have that same level of awareness. I believe we have a great opportunity to better educate the public on clinical trials, sharing information about what they are, how they work, and how one can learn more about them.

BrightFocus: What would you like people to know about Alzheimer’s clinical trials?

Haeberlein: What I’d like people to know about clinical trials in Alzheimer’s disease is that this is the place where we may find a new treatment and that we really need them to participate. We do understand and appreciate that it is a huge commitment and at the end of the day, it must be right for the person.

BrightFocus: What needs to be done to increase participation in Alzheimer’s clinical trials?

Haeberlein: It’s very important that we increase the awareness of clinical trials in Alzheimer’s disease. There is not enough appreciation that this is one thing that patients can try at the moment, and it would be wonderful if the medical health care practice, in its various forms, could realize that this is something that they could direct their patients towards.

BrightFocus: What should people ask their doctors about clinical trials?

Haeberlein: I would like to see patients who, unfortunately, receive a diagnosis from the doctor, ask the question: Is there a clinical trial that I can participate in? We also understand though that some people may not live close to a clinical trial and even though they wish to participate it may be hard.

BrightFocus: What more needs to be done to cure Alzheimer’s?

Haeberlein: We need to bring forward multiple treatments. One treatment may not be enough for a disease as complex as Alzheimer’s. This is why we need to leave no stone unturned in simultaneously exploring multiple lines of research.

BrightFocus: Groups such as BrightFocus that provide private funding to early stage or early career research, what type of role do they have in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s?

Haeberlein: There’s a whole ecosystem needed for us to bring forward potential new medicines. There are the groups like BrightFocus that are funding early research, there are the researchers who are working out the mechanisms, and then there are the clinical groups and companies like our own who work together to try and test those new therapies. Groups like BrightFocus are part of that ecosystem and are really important to us.

This interview has been edited for brevity

This series of articles promoting awareness of clinical trials is supported in part by an educational sponsorship from Biogen. BrightFocus is solely responsible for the content of this article.

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