What to expect from the next five years of dementia research

Yesterday, our Director of Research Dr Eric Karran spoke about his hopes for the development of new Alzheimer’s treatments, saying that he is ‘more encouraged for the future now, than he has ever been’. This rallying call comes only a few days before the G8 dementia summit takes place in London.

The G8 event will bring together health ministers from the G8 nations to discuss how we can all work together to make progress faster for people with dementia. Speaking at a briefing with journalists ahead of the event, Dr Karran said: ‘We now understand far better the pathology of this disease starts early on, maybe 10 years before we see any symptoms.’

Along with other dementia researchers on the panel, Dr Karran spoke about the improvements being made in understanding and tracking these earliest changes in the brain during the disease and the potential these hold for helping us bring new treatments to people sooner.

Dr Karran discussed two widely-reported phase III clinical trials, with drugs which both aimed to slow or stop the disease but which both failed to meet their primary targets of improving people’s performance on memory and thinking tests. Despite this disappointment, he explained that one of these drugs – solanezumab – did show signs of benefits but only in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.

This drug is continuing into another phase III clinical trial, which will focus on treating people at the early stages of the disease. While we should be very positive about this trial, we must also remain realistic. We will not know until the study finishes in 2016, whether the treatment could hold promise for people in these early stages.

Dr Karran was ‘hopeful that as soon as we can get efficacy in one drug, it will unlock so many other things’. One success in a final stage clinical trial would teach us a huge amount in a short space of time about the disease and how to track it. It is this understanding that will help to bring other drugs to patients more quickly.

The panel spoke about the idea that future treatments may need to be given at a very early stage of the disease. This raises the idea that any successful drug could, in future, be given to people at such an early stage of the disease that it becomes equivalent to a ‘prevention’ – stopping the disease from ever having an impact on someone’s life. Indeed, this would be a huge step forward, but at the moment clinical trials of new treatments are mainly focusing on people who already have the disease so it will be many years before we know if these treatments could also act as preventions.

However, within the next five years, we are very optimistic that breakthroughs will come in the search for treatments that could slow or stop the disease in people with Alzheimer’s. And Alzheimer’s Research UK is absolutely committed to streamlining this process to bring as many new compounds through the pipeline as possible, to give us the best chance of success.

Read more about our pioneering new Drug Discovery Institute.

If you are interested in getting involved in researchvisit our website to find out more.

Want to learn about how new treatments are developed for Alzheimer’s? Visit our virtual dementia lab.

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About the author

Dr Laura Phipps