Government pledges to double dementia funding

Today’s G8 Dementia Summit will bring together leaders from around the world to collaborate on research to tackle dementia – a condition costing an estimated £370bn a year worldwide.

Prime minister David Cameron will announce that, since the launch of the government’s life sciences strategy two years ago, £2bn of private sector funding has been invested. The government will also double research funding into dementia by 2025, he will say.

A new brain scanning technique will also be introduced to the NHS, allowing doctors to rule out a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, or of the disease developing within the next five years.

The test involves giving patients a small amount of a radioactive substance that allows amyloid plaques to show up in a brain scan. The presence of plaques is a main sign of Alzheimer’s – although they do not mean it is inevitable – so an absence of these will allow doctors to rule out the disease.

The Medical Research Council will invest £150m for clinical research in the UK to better understand how dementia affects the brain, improve early detection and improve treatment to delay the progression of the disease.

A new UK Dementia Platform will be launched to bring public and private researchers together to share data and drive research.

And the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has announced £5m funding for research to improve diagnosis by identifying dementia sub-types more easily and accurately – and enabling qualitative measurement of disease progression.

Universities and science minister David Willetts said: “We need to take action now if we are to address the global health challenge posed by dementia. This funding will contribute to a greater understanding of the disease, helping to break down the barrier posed by diagnosing dementia, and ultimately giving people a better of quality of life.”

Dr Doug Brown, director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It’s great to see funding committed to research that might improve how accurately we can diagnose dementia. With more than half of the 800,000 people in the UK living with dementia still not getting a diagnosis, too many are left unrecognised and unsupported. A timely diagnosis of dementia opens doors to treatments and gives access to vital care and support.

“At the G8 Summit this week, we hope to see dementia made a priority and plans for global action made to tackle this condition.”

And Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research for Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Accurate diagnosis of the diseases that cause dementia is critical, as each will require different treatment and care management approaches. Technologies to improve disease detection and progression could boost development of treatments, providing valuable data on the benefits of new drugs and helping get them to patients more quickly. Dementia is our greatest medical challenge, and we need the very best in innovation and technology to solve it.”

At the summit, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said “We will bankrupt our healthcare system if we don’t [tackle dementia].”

He called for efforts to be redoubled to find a drug to stop dementia and Alzheimer’s, for diagnosis rates to be improved, and to fight the stigma against dementia in society.

Hunt said that too many doctors think there is no point in making a diagnosis because there is no cure, but with a diagnosis patients can access medicines, support for their families and carers, and guidance on lifestyle changes.

In Europe, the Innovative Medicines Initiative will invest £44m in Alzheimer’s drug trials and the European Commission will invest £460m and issue a call for proposals into research on neurodegenerative diseases.

The G8 countries are expected to agree to measures for collaboration on research and closer cooperation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that someone in the world is diagnosed with dementia every four seconds.

Speaking ahead of the summit, Cameron said: “Building a more competitive, resilient economy with new industries and the jobs of the future is a key part of my long-term plan for Britain. That’s why we are throwing everything we have at making the UK the place to invest and locate and work in life sciences.

“In the past two years we’ve seen £2bn invested in this country; that will not only mean more jobs and growth, but also more research and greater progress, and it’s a huge sign of confidence in our economy.

“But if we are to beat dementia, we must also work globally, with nations, business and scientists from all over the world working together as we did with cancer, and with HIV and AIDS. Today, we will get some of the most powerful nations around the table in London to agree how we must go forward together, working towards that next big breakthrough.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive & general secretary of the RCN said: “Today’s G8 summit is a golden opportunity to work with other countries to share the best practice around the world, and this must be supported with a continued increase in research funding.

“Nursing has an important role to play in supporting people with dementia at all stages of the condition. Nursing staff work across a range of services and are often the primary contact for most patients, relatives and carers. It is therefore essential that nurses are able to fulfill this role, however we know that often nurses do not feel sufficiently equipped and prepared to respond to the needs of people with dementia and their families due to a lack of training, education and support.

“This is also an opportunity for a greater focus on the important and often overlooked role that carers play. The RCN and Carers Trust recently published ‘Triangle of Care’, which called for much greater involvement of carers when people with dementia use services. Carers are too often ignored when people with dementia are admitted to hospital, however they have much to offer staff, such as personal knowledge of how dementia affects their loved one. Put simply, carers should be at the very heart of care.

“There is still far too much we don’t know about dementia and there is a long way to go before we are doing enough to support people who are diagnosed with it, however today’s summit could be a real step towards taking this global challenge seriously. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed.”

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