The UK is launching the world’s largest study into dementia, involving more than two million people, through the Medical Research Council and industry partners, while Alzheimer’s Research UK has pledged £100 million over five years to tackle the problem.
These are just two of a variety of initiatives launched at the first legacy event of the G8 Dementia Summit (held in December) in London. First up, the MRC has unveiled the UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP), a £16 million public-private partnership, a project linking the likes of AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson with eight UK universities, led by Cardiff and including Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh and Imperial College London.
The UKDP will investigate the causes of dementia across a range of different neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease. It will study data from over two million volunteers aged 50 and over who have taken part in existing population studies such as UK Biobank and the Million Women Study, linking it to “emerging biological data from genetic studies, brain imaging and cognitive testing”.
The resource will hopefully allow scientists to identify better biomarkers of the key changes associated with dementia, helping them develop “new and more accurate clinical trials and find ways to limit and improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected”.
Meantime, Alzheimer’s Research UK has launched its Defeat Dementia campaign which includes the charity’s setting-up of the UK Stem Cell Research Centre, a £2 million venture between the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge and University College London to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s and screen potential new treatments. The project will also involve a network of drug discovery institutes, worth £30 million, housed in academic establishments in the UK and a £20 million global clinical development fund to allow for Phase I and II trials “to test the treatments of tomorrow as soon as possible”.
Pharma R&D spend under pressure
Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, noted that “pharmaceutical funding of dementia research has been under sustained pressure, with recent Phase III trials not meeting their clinical endpoints. The worry is that dementia will fall out of favour as a target for pharmaceutical R&D, and that progress will continue to be slow for those affected by the condition”. He added that Defeat Dementia “aims to reignite R&D into the diseases that cause dementia and we are taking a range of approaches to bring patient benefit as soon as possible”.
A report has also been released from the charity and the Office of Health Economics which suggests that an intervention to delay the onset of dementia by five years could cut the number of people affected by a third, resulting in 565,913 fewer informal carers by 2050. This could create a 36% cost saving to the UK economy (£38.2 billion compared to £59.4 billion expected in 2050.
Prime Minister David Cameron will be speaking at the follow-up conference later today and will say that “dementia now stands alongside cancer as one of the greatest enemies of humanity”. He will add that “we first need to tackle head-on the market failure perilously undermining dementia research and drug development [and] we need investment in research, greater collaboration, better incentives for taking new treatments to market and earlier access”.
Mr Cameron said “we need to join up the dots and create a big, bold global push to beat this”, noting that “it will take years of work but we have shown with other diseases that we can make progress and we will do so again”.
The World Dementia Envoy, and founder of Quintliles, Dennis Gillings, warned that if global leaders do not incentivise businesses to invest in research and bring in faster, cheaper clinical trials, they will not meet the ambition to find a cure or disease modifying therapy by 2025. He stated that “dementia is a ticking bomb costing the global economy £350 billion and yet progress with research is achingly slow”.
Dr Gillings added that “research must become more attractive to pharmaceuticals so they will invest and innovate. Just as the world came together in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we need to free up regulation so that we can test ground-breaking new drugs, and examine whether the period for market exclusivity could be extended”.