The UK Government is spearheading a $100 million Dementia Discovery Fund in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Research UK and a number of major pharmaceutical companies. 

Announced today (17 March) at the World Health Organization’s First Ministerial Conference on Global Action Against Dementia, the collaboration marks a significant first step towards launching what has been dubbed a ground-breaking fund to tackle the issue of dementia and finance research. 

Approximately 44 million people worldwide suffer from dementia. This number is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. The disease is predicted to cripple global healthcare systems if a cure or sufficient disease-modifying treatment is not discovered. 

Currently no treatments are capable of stopping dementia in its tracks and only three new drugs that alleviate symptoms have made it to market in the past 15 years. Billions of dollars have been spent on trials but many results have been disappointing.

In 2013, G8 leaders set an ambition to find a cure or disease-modifying treatment by 2025. Today’s WHO meeting discusses how this agenda can be taken forward on a global scale. 

The ultimate aim of the venture capital fund is to invest in innovative pre-clinical research to develop new drugs to treat the condition.

The pharma companies committed in principle to investing in the project include: Biogen Idec, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Lilly and Pfizer.  

UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to say at the conference: “The new fund is a unique collaboration, bringing together the combined expertise of government, financial, industry and charity partners. It marks a global consensus that research needs greater priority and that new sources of finance are needed to translate the best science into effective treatments.” 

The money committed by investors includes the £15 million that the UK Government announced for the Fund in autumn 2014. Alzheimer’s Research UK is investing $5 million in the fund over five years, with GSK contributing $25 million. 

Janssen has announced it will invest $10 million into the fund. Paul Stoffels, worldwide chairman, pharmaceuticals and chief scientific officer, Johnson & Johnson, said: “Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most critical public health problems, and it will be solved by working collaboratively. This means supporting leading scientists and working side by side with industry, government, and other groups to find promising science that will lead to new treatments.”  

Dr Matthew Norton, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The Discovery Fund will bring much needed new money into dementia research, but importantly also represents a new way of doing things. It will ensure some of the best minds in commercial drug discovery focus their efforts on dementia, widening the breadth of focus in the area and increasing our chances of success.”

Promising projects for funding will be identified by an expert panel with advice from the pharma companies involved. Companies that may want to go on and develop particular projects can bid for the rights, with money raised from the bidding process to be reinvested in the fund. 

An opportunity for additional interested investors to participate in the fund is planned for a later stage.