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UK’s MRC launches public-private push on dementia research

AstraZeneca, GSK and J&J will support £16m programme
Alzheimer's brain scan

The UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) has unveiled a £16m dementia research programme that will bring together scientists from industry and academia.

The aim is to develop ways to detect people at risk of developing dementia as early as possible, improve therapy and ultimately find ways to prevent the disease, according to the MRC, which says the research will focus not simply on the brain but the whole body.

The UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP) will draw on expertise from eight UK universities and six pharmaceutical companies, with other firms expected to join the consortium in the coming months.

The programme grew out of last year's G8 Dementia Summit, at which the UK pledged to double funding for research in this area to £132m by 2025. It will be officially announced at a follow-up meeting held today in London.

AstraZeneca (AZ), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) are representing big pharma in the project, while smaller companies Araclon, Ixico and SomaLogic have also signed up, with the latter opening a research unit in the UK as a direct result of the UKDP.

The academic partners include Cardiff University - which will serve as the academic lead for the project - along with the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Swansea as well as Imperial College London and University College London.

A key driver for the project is access to a two million-strong cohort of volunteers aged over 50 who have provided medical and lifestyle information that can be linked to emerging data from genetic studies, brain imaging and cognitive testing.

"We now know that neurodegeneration can be linked to changes taking place in parts of the body seemingly unrelated to the brain and many years before dementia is diagnosed," said Dr John Gallacher of Cardiff University, who is the director of the UKDP.

Factors such as inflammation and infection in organs away from the brain may play a role in the development of dementia, long before symptoms start to emerge, he added. Identifying such triggers is particularly important as a recent survey has suggested that less than half of patients with dementia are diagnosed.

"By looking at the links between development of the disease and other factors - such as diet or illness - we hope to unearth targets for new drugs or new uses for existing drugs,” added Dr Gallacher.

The UK is fast becoming a hub of dementia research, with Teva recently announcing a $21m investment in a new government-led initiative to streamline clinical development of new drug treatments.

Ahead of today's Global Dementia Legacy Event, Dr Dennis Gillings - who was appointed world dementia envoy by UK Prime Minister David Cameron after the G8 summit - told the BBC that meeting the 2025 target would be impossible without better incentives for investment and a simplified clinical trial pathway for dementia drugs.

Around 44 million people around the world have dementia at the moment, but this number is expected to triple to 135 million by 2050, threatening to bankrupt global healthcare systems unless new treatment and prevention strategies are developed.

Article by
Phil Taylor

19th June 2014

From: Research, Healthcare

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