With no fewer than 850,000 over 75s affected in France and 1 in 5 deaths, Alzheimer’s and related diseases are a public healthpriority. To achieve more than just the statistics, a group of one hundred or so experts from all fields, chaired by Professor Joël Ménard, renowned scientist and physician with a wealth of experience in public health challenges, worked for three months in late 2007 on identifying a series of measures for preventing this health problem. This research has been a key issue for discussion.
Although less developed than in the field of AIDS or cancer, French research on Alzheimer’s and related diseases does have specific strengths through which it can flourish:
Following the expert group’s report, on 1 February 2008 the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, decided to launch a five-year national plan on Alzheimer’s and related diseases, with three main goals:
The second goal is entirely given over to research and incorporates specific objectives:
This scientific policy is implemented by a network of excellence coordinated by a National Research Foundation on Alzheimer’s and related diseases and earmarked a budget of €200 million.
Set up in June 2008 by the French Minister of Research for implementing the research measures of the national plan, this private not-for-profit foundation conducts an effective and highly resourceful research program on Alzheimer’s and related diseases (cf box text). The Foundation’s conseil d’administration, chaired by a renowned figure from the business world, Mr Philippe Lagayette, is made up of public institutions, manufacturers and qualified figures from various fields (associations, scientific firms, etc.), each with equivalent voting rights. The Foundation seeks advice from a conseil scientifique international, chaired by Professor Joël Ménard, and is managed by Professor Philippe Amouyel, who is assisted by an administrative and financial secretary and a scientific representative.
The Foundation launches calls for projects according to the priorities identified and in interaction with the other funding sources (ANR, PHRC, Inserm, CNRS, CNSA, universities, European programs and so on), fosters public-private partnerships, boosts effective team resources and attracts new skills.
Over the past year, two calls for projects have been launched: one on experimental models and the other on human and social sciences. Several major projects have been funded, including the 10-year follow-up of the prospective cohort, Etude des 3 Cités (3C) and a pangenomic study on a total sample of 20,000 people, 6,000 of whom have Alzheimer’s. This research has revealed two new factors of genetic susceptibility in Alzheimer’s disease.
Finally, given the degree of impact of Alzheimer’s and related diseses, an international mobilization of research scientists was initiated by the Foundation during the French Presidency of the European Union through a new European joint pilot scheme involving more than 20 countries and through a Franco-Canadian joint venture with the French National Research agency (ANR).
This vast collaboration of researchers from all fields, in academic and private sectors, from all countries is the only way to significantly step up the discovery of solutions to combat these terrible afflictions effectively.
The Alzheimer’s plan defines 15 objectives, including:
- high-throughput genomic studies
- development of clinical research
- PhD and postdoctoral grants
- social and human sciences
- innovative approaches
- medical imaging
- physician training
- cohort follow-ups and information systems
- public-private partnerships
- development of European research.