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Woodford investment pushes Dementia Discovery Fund to £100m

Fund aims to back 40 projects over its 15-year term

Alzheimers brain scanThanks to a £15m pledge from Neil Woodford's investment group, the public-private Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF) has now raised close to £100m ($127m) for its quest to discover disease-modifying drugs for Alzheimer's.

In its annual report, the DDF says it has invested in nine projects to date - most recently stumping up $5m in backing for Cerevance - and has another three candidates at an advanced stage of discussion. The fund was set up in 2015 with backing from the UK government, medical charity Alzheimer's Research UK and drug companies including GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly.

It grew out of a dementia consortium that brought together academic and industry researchers that was formed in the wake of the 2013 G8 Dementia Summit, at which the UK pledged to double funding for research in this area to £132m by 2025. The DDF is hoping to deliver funding of around £230m in its first five years of operations, according to a Financial Times article.

Critically, the emphasis is to explore avenues for therapeutic intervention beyond the ‘amyloid hypothesis’, which has swallowed up billions of dollars in research funding but has yet to deliver any approved therapies.

The DDF's chief scientific officer - former Takeda drug discovery head Tetsu Maruyama - said that the fund's first year of investing "has shown clearly how our new way of focusing investment and deploying an expert team can unlock areas of dementia research that would otherwise be underdeveloped or unacknowledged".

Its programme focuses on four key scientific areas: the biology of microglial cells in the central nervous system and the importance of inflammation in dementia; the role of the energy-producing mitochondria structures in the cell; trafficking and membrane biology; and the physiology and function of the junctions (synapses) between nerve cells.

Maruyama stresses the importance of backing projects that are "investible" and can translate quickly from bench research to the clinic.

The FT notes that the DDF is playing a long game, aiming to back 40 projects over its 15-year term and advance three to five of those into clinical testing. Any successful disease-modifying drug for Alzheimer's dementia is expected to become a mega-blockbuster.

"One year into investing at DDF and we see a material change on the horizon which could be classified as comparable to the oncology scene more than a decade ago," said Kate Bingham, managing partner of venture capital firm SV Life Sciences which has been appointed to manage the fund.

"There is no shortage of high-quality international science in the field and there is a vast opportunity in taking validated interventions and insights from other disease areas and applying them to dementia."

Article by
Phil Taylor

19th June 2017

From: Research

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