Recently, a number of critics have begun to accuse the G8 of being out of touch with the new, more expansive globalized geopolitical balance of the 21st century. Some have even argued that the G20 −- which includes representation from all continents −- will supplant the G8 in the near future.
Whatever history will reveal to us about the truth of these claims, the G8 continues to play a leadership role in setting the agenda for major global issues. This role is on display this week as the G8 meets to address a momentous new challenge confronting both developed and developing nations -- Alzheimer's and related dementias.
Last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the G8, under the British presidency in 2013, would take the lead in addressing Alzheimer's on a global level. Over the next year, the G8 can re-confirm its standing as an agenda-setting global organization by driving a new international approach to these distinctly 21st century diseases.
This is exactly what the G8 should be doing. Alzheimer's is one of this century's greatest social, health, and economic challenges, and Mr. Cameron's declaration may prove to be a turning point.
For the G8's pledge to become a success, however, other stakeholders must join with the G8 governments to turn lofty ambition into goal-oriented action. The most important steps for the G8 will be convening stakeholders to commit to matching the scope of research resources to the scale of the challenge, as well as increasing the volume and velocity of new treatments to those at risk. The G8 must also take a leadership role in reducing the stigma of the disease and engaging "citizen scientists" in the efforts to find a cure.
Currently, the costs of developing therapies are too high, the timelines too long, and the risks too great. The consequence, as we can see, is the absence of new therapies for treatment and prevention. If we fail to advance new therapies, the burden of Alzheimer's is going to become socially and economically devastating.
The G8 can solve this problem by leading the effort toward creating a Global Financing Mechanism for Alzheimer's research. Additionally, the G8 could champion the regulatory harmonization and global clinical trials infrastructure needed to speed drug testing and approvals and enable development teams to "fail faster," take more shots on goal, and reduce drug evaluation uncertainty. Currently, the pace at which drug development and evaluation unfolds is cripplingly slow, and a large-scale global network of well-studied patients ready to participate in clinical trials is one of the best accelerants to drug discovery. In that regard, Alzheimer's must be de-stigmatized so patients will be ready affirmatively to engage in the efforts to solve this mind-robbing disease.
The G8 has a vital leadership role to play in making these efforts a reality. As we saw just over a decade ago, the G8 was instrumental in developing the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. At a Summit in 2000 in Okinawa, Japan, the G8 committed itself to supporting UN and WHO targets to reduce the number children infected by HIV/AIDS, the prevalence of tuberculosis, and the disease burden of malaria. Soon after, the G8 gave $1.3 billion to the Global Fund, and galvanized what has come to be known as the "Spirit of Okinawa." This was a pivotal moment in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
If the G8 nations as well as scientific, industry and patient stakeholders can turn Mr. Cameron's Alzheimer's pronouncement into an actionable agenda with a Global Financing Mechanism and other scientific and regulatory reforms, other global organizations and nations will follow that lead. The G20, for example, meets in Russia in September, with the stated goal of "starting the new cycle of economic growth." This could be an opportunity to bring Alzheimer's into the heart of global economic discussions, where it most certainly belongs. The following year, G20 meets in Australia, a country that has shown its own important leadership in the global fight against Alzheimer's, as evidenced by the AIBL study, which seeks to determine which biomarkers, cognitive characteristics, and health and lifestyle factors determine development of dementia.
Beyond the G20, the OECD is well positioned to lend its support. Alzheimer's is prominent on the OECD agenda, as the organization is currently leading the discussion of how new technology innovations, such as "big data," can inform new approaches to developing Alzheimer's therapies. The European Union, another likely ally, has committed substantial resources to addressing Alzheimer's disease and other brain diseases through such mechanisms as Horizon 2020. Industry, wounded by repeated failures in late-stage clinical trials, will welcome the initiative, as will large and influential patient-oriented NGO's hungry for unified and comprehensive leadership. As with HIV/AIDS, the prospect of a unified effort by governments, the scientific community, industry and NGOs is within reach.
For all of the criticism that G8 has received for not doing enough to solve global problems, it has taken a clear and decisive step under Mr. Cameron's pledge to provide leadership to the fight against Alzheimer's. Now, other nations and the many stakeholders in this fight must turn ambition into action. If the G8 can help build global finance and drug development and evaluation reforms a reality, we may one day reflect on how the G8 organization shaped a more prosperous and healthy 21st century.