2020 – we’ve nearly made it, thanks to you

COVID-19 changed the course of this year in a way that nobody could have predicted.

Our thoughts are with the individuals and families who have been directly affected by the virus and the medical, care and other key workers who have done so much to support us all through a very difficult year.

Here at Alzheimer’s Research UK our staff, scientists and clinical researchers have all had to adapt as guidelines have changed through the year.

Amid initial projections of up to a 45% drop in income for the charity, we had to make difficult decisions in response to an unprecedented situation.

While our dedicated supporters are helping us chart a course that avoids this worst-case scenario, there is no denying that 2020 has been a challenging year for the charity and dementia research in general.

What about funding for research?

As the scale and likely impact of COVID-19 started to become clear, our first priority was to protect commitments to research that was already underway. At the start of the pandemic this included funding for over 100 ongoing projects, and commitments to big initiatives such as the Drug Discovery Alliance. This meant we had to pause new funding for research at a time when other funders had to take similar action.

With less funding available across the board, it is crucial that we continue to build on the incredible progress researchers have made over the past decade and that we don’t lose momentum in dementia research. A survey of dementia researchers indicated that this was a very real possibility.

Over a third of those polled were considering leaving or had left academic research with 72% highlighting that future funding opportunities had decreased. This would be disastrous for the future of dementia research and we are taking urgent action in campaigning for the Government to boost dementia funding and restarting our own funding schemes as quickly as possible.

Thanks to your support we will be able to offer a limited number of new funding opportunities in January 2021, something we had not initially expected to be able to do. These will be exclusively for early career researchers whose positions and future prospects have been impacted most by the current funding environment.

This is one of a number of green shoots breaking through in the dementia research landscape.

Partnering for success

We make sure your donations have the greatest impact by leveraging support from other organisations to make your support go further. This has been especially important this year.

Following the success of the first round of funding, Sir Jackie Stewart’s Race Against Dementia charity, in partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK, is supporting a new £1.5m funding call. Designed to power outstanding early career scientists in their pursuit of innovative solutions to the big questions in dementia research, the second round of the successful scheme will give researchers unique access to development opportunities, including a mentorship from figures in the world of Formula One racing.

In February, we launched the Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN) initiative. Spearheaded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, EDoN brings together leading research and support organisations, working to develop digital devices that can detect diseases like Alzheimer’s 10-15 years before symptoms start. EDoN partners include The Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, Health Data Research UK and five of the country’s top universities.

Key support from Bill Gates has allowed EDoN to ramp up even as we worked within the constraints presented by COVID-19. Researchers have now been recruited to key positions in the project and working with a number of large, ongoing research studies as the pilot phase of the initiative is well underway.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is also a founding charity partner of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI). Over 600 researchers now work at the UK DRI, which was a government led initiative with significant funding coming from the Medical Research Council. Government funding has been essential for dementia research during the pandemic, as private and charity sector investment has been more limited. Alzheimer’s Research UK is calling on the government to deliver on its election promise to double dementia funding in this parliament, and thousands of you have already backed this call by signing our petition.

Our partnerships have been key this year as have careful financial planning, which has included use of the furlough scheme and the need to pause or review some of the activities we had planned. We are very grateful to our employees, scientists and partners for their dedication, understanding and flexibility in a very difficult year.

But most of all we’d like to thank our incredible supporters. We’ve all seen organisations that have had to restructure, scale back or even close altogether. While dementia research, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the country are by no means out of the COVID-19 woods yet, your donations, fundraising and volunteering means that we can be optimistic about 2021.

As COVID-19 vaccines are now starting to roll out to those who need them most, what this year has shown us is the astonishing power of medical research.

Dementia remains our biggest long-term medical challenge. With your support we will continue to fund ambitious research, and we will come through 2020 stronger than ever.


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About the author

Dr Susan Kohlhaas

Dr Susan Kohlhaas is the Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK where she currently drives the research agenda.

Susan has over a decade of experience at medical research charities, most recently as Executive Director of Research and External Affairs at MS Society.