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Dementia research to be ‘significantly’ bolstered in UK

Plans for a ‘big, bold push’ in tackling dementia are to be put in place today, but progress on research and treatment for the illness has been "achingly slow" in the past, an expert has warned. 

Dr Dennis Gillings, the World Dementia Envoy, has 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 added: “Dementia is a ticking bomb costing the global economy £350bn ($600bn) and yet progress with research is achingly slow. 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.” 

At today’s Global Dementia Legacy Event, the Prime Minister David Cameron is to pledge a new drive by the UK to discover new drugs and treatment that could slow down the onset of dementia or even deliver a cure by 2025. 

The PM will use the follow-up conference to last December’s G8 Summit on Dementia to encourage leading nations to follow the UK’s commitment. 

He will hold specific talks with leaders in business, finance and pharmaceuticals to say that the status quo is not good enough and that governments, business and the wider health sector must work together to accelerate progress on innovative drugs and treatments. 

Cameron is expected to say: “In the UK alone there are around 800,000 people living with dementia, worldwide that number is 40 million – and it is set to double every twenty years. 

“We have to fight to cure it. I know some people will say that it’s not possible, but we have seen with cancer what medicine can achieve.” 

In addition to this pledge by the government, Alzheimer’s Research UK has pledged £100m for dementia research. The new five year campaign – Defeat Dementia - aims to grow the research field and accelerate progress towards new treatments and preventions. 

Responding to calls from the original Summit in December 2013 for greater investment in research and partnership working, the charity has taken the lead with a long-term commitment to tackle the growing health crisis. 

The campaign, which represents the largest ever UK charity commitment to dementia research, will see £100m investment across initiatives covering diagnosis, prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Pledges as part of ‘Defeat Dementia’ include: 

  • The launch today of the Alzheimer’s Research UK Stem Cell Research Centre – a £2m collaborative venture between researchers at the Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge and University College London to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s and screen potential new treatments.
  • A network of Drug Discovery Institutes, worth £30m, housed in academic centres in the UK and beyond to allow promising breakthroughs to be translated towards the clinic.
  • A £20m Global Clinical Development Fund dedicated to supporting phase I and II clinical trials to take potential new treatments into testing in people as soon as possible. 

Dr Rick Livesey, from the Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, has been pioneering the use of stem cell techniques to understand Alzheimer’s. He will play an important part in running the Alzheimer’s Research UK Stem Cell Research Centre, which is being supported by the Alborada Trust. 

He said: “Alzheimer’s Research UK was the first to support our early work in this field and it’s amazing to see it develop into such an innovative area of research with so much promise for finding new treatments. By studying nerve cells in the laboratory made from skin cells of people with Alzheimer’s, we can not only understand the disease better but quickly screen compounds that could slow or stop it.” 

The government will also announce the Medical Research Council's new UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP) which it hopes will "speed up" research into dementia. 

The £16m public-private partnership aims to enable earlier detection of dementia, improved treatment and - ultimately - prevention of the disease. 

The key project will be the world's biggest study into dementia, involving two million people in the UK who scientists have already been tracking as part of other studies. 

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We owe it to the 44 million people living with dementia across the world to find new treatments for this cruel condition.” 

At today’s event, the Alzheimer’s Society will also reiterate its commitment, made at the G8, to spend £100m on dementia research over the next ten years – including £15m on studies to examine whether commonly available drugs could double as dementia treatments and over £30m training the next generation of dementia researchers. 

NHS England’s national clinical director for Dementia Professor Alistair Burns has also welcomed the launch of the Alzheimer’s Society’s dementia-friendly technology charter, helping people with dementia live at home for longer. 

The charity has created a guide improving access to life-changing technology including products and home modifications. The charter, developed by a diverse working group led by Tunstall Healthcare, gives people with dementia and their carers information on how to access technology that can make life easier and safer for dementia patients. 

Prof Burns said: “Dementia is a priority for NHS England; we welcome the charter which will be a great help to individuals living with dementia and their families. 

“NHS England has the ambition that two thirds of people with dementia will have a diagnosis and that they and their carers will have high quality post diagnosis support by 2015.” 

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