UK Dementia Research gains momentum

In March of 2012, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge (see here), which included the pledge to “More than doubling overall funding for dementia research to over £66m by 2015.” The following year, and in recognition of the looming “tsunami of dementia” as a consequence of an aging global population the world’s first G8 dementia summit was held in London on the 11th December. This meeting involved researchers, drug companies and government ministers and set the ambitious target of identifying a cure, or a disease-modifying therapy, for dementia by 2025 (see here). The Prime Minister maintained momentum with the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 (see here) “in order for England to be:

  • the best country in the world for dementia care and support and for people with dementia, their carers and families to live
  • the best place in the world to undertake research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases”
  • These lofty words and aspirations are actually being matched by actions, such as the establishing of the Dementia Platform UK (DPUK; see here) and the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI; see here) as well as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Dementia Translational Research Collaboration (TRC) which comprises four NIHR Dementia Biomedical Research Units as well as six NIHR Biomedical Research Centres with dementia-related research themes (see here).

JA 1For example, the DPUK (see Figure 1), which is led by Professor John Gallacher at the University of Oxford, aims to study different patients cohorts in order to characterise people with different types and stages of dementias. These population studies have the power to provide insights into the role of health and lifestyle on dementias by using the latest imaging and other technologies.

The DPUK is a public-private partnership established in 2014, with the MRC providing £12m funding over an initial period of five years with an additional £4m being contributed by six industry partners (Araclon Biotech, MedImmune, GlaxoSmithKline, Ixico, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and SomaLogic). In addition, an additional £37m has been contributed to fund networks of clinical research infrastructure focussed around Imaging, Informatics and Stem Cell Networks. An example of a major project that is using the DPUK is the NIHR-MRC Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study, a £6.9m project which aims to identify a combination of biomarkers that change in prodromal Alzheimer’s disease for use in proof of concept phase clinical trials.

The UK DRI is a network of research institutes (see Figure 2)

JA 2

established on the basis of £250m in funding from a combination of the Medical Research Council, the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK (see here). The Head of the UK DRI, Prof. Bart de Strooper, and the hub of this research network, UCL, were announced in December 2016 (see here) with additional centres in Cardiff University, University of Edinburgh, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and King’s College London being announced last month (see here). The initial round of UK DRI £55 million will fund 27 foundation programmes (details of which are available via links on the website). With the foundation programmes in place, the plan will be to attract additional scientists and rising stars from all over the world in order to integrate expertise across different areas of biomedical and translational research. Importantly, in addition to the existing focus on disease mechanisms as the basis for developing novel therapeutics, the DRI will add research into caring to its portfolio in 2018.

In an era when political words are seldom matched by significant actions, David Cameron’s commitment to dementia research has proved to be transformative and will continue in his recently-announced role as President of Alzheimer’s Research UK (see here). It is encouraging that Theresa May appears to be raising the profile of mental health (see here and here) yet only time will tell if her actions can come close to matching those of her predecessor.

Blog written by John Atack


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