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Dementia research ‘achingly slow’

Published on 20/06/14 at 07:15am
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UK prime minster David Cameron says: “We need to join up the dots and create a big, bold global push to beat this."

The UK prime minister’s envoy on dementia has described progress on research into the neurodegenerative condition as ‘achingly slow’.

Global spending on dementia is running at five times less than the figure for cancer R&D, with only three dementia drugs getting on to the market in the past 15 years.

But a new initiative launched by David Cameron has dangled the carrot of drugs that could slow the onset of dementia – or perhaps even provide a cure - by 2025.

Speaking at the 2014 Global Dementia Legacy Event in London - a follow-up to the 2013 G8 Dementia Summit – the prime minister said the UK would double funding for dementia by 2015 while Alzheimer’s Research UK has pledged £100 million.

“The truth is that dementia now stands alongside cancer as one of the greatest enemies of humanity,” Cameron said. “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 20 years.”

But in an intervention that will strike a chord with pharma, Dr Dennis Gillings, whose title is world dementia envoy, warned that business worldwide needs to be incentivised to meet the 2025 target.

Gillings wants more investment in research and the construction of quicker and cheaper clinical trials and says that ‘radical change’ is needed to make progress.

“Dementia is a ticking bomb costing the global economy £350 billion and yet progress with research is achingly slow,” he says. “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.”

Cameron talked of tackling “head-on the market failure perilously undermining dementia research and drug development”.

The prime minister concluded: “We need to join up the dots and create a big, bold global push to beat this. It will take years of work but we have shown with other diseases that we can make progress and we will do so again.”

At the same event, the Medical Research Council also launched the UK Dementias Research Platform, a £16 million public-private partnership set up to speed research into various neurodegenerative conditions.

Its idea is to look at illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease, seeking ways of earlier detection, improved treatment and prevention, using the biggest study group yet assembled.

Adam Hill

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