Canada's Vision for Alzheimer Research Hits a Snag

OTTAWA—Alain Beaudet, almost from the moment he became president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research 2 years ago, has been talking about the need for a multibillion-dollar initiative to combat Alzheimer's disease and dementia. (In Canada alone, the prevalence of dementia will more than double in 30 years, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.) Beaudet has spoken of blazing the path with massive outlays that might inspire or leverage investments from other countries and create a global research network.

But that dream appears to have run head-on into a government deficit. Sources say Beaudet's pitch for dementia research funding to the governing Conservative Party has been massively scaled back recently—from something on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars to a far more modest $10 million. The 2010–2011 budget, sources say, would be used to craft the parameters of a national dementia strategy over the course of the next few years. Even $10 million may be too rich for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. His cabinet team is trying to reduce a deficit that has ballooned to $53.5 billion as a result of economic stimulus measures over the course of the recession. Managers are all but stumbling over themselves to lay the spadework for forthcoming budget cuts, to be unveiled in March.

Beaudet now talks about Canada as an "honest broker" of collaborative projects, rather than a big spender, and gamely hopes that his discussions with other nations will ultimately yield dividends such as an international platform to focus on early detection and treatment of dementias. "It's really not co-ordinated at present," Beaudet says. "We could share animal models. We could share cohorts of patients. We could put our minds together to develop biomarkers way faster." But he adds, "if we want to be at all significant in that game, we will have to increase our investment significantly.