A sense of momentum, excitement, and pride – my reflections on AAIC 2023
By Hilary Evans | Thursday 20 July 2023
After four intense days, the 2023 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference finished today in Amsterdam. On the journey back to the UK, I had some time to reflect on what took place, and the really heartening progress the research community are making against dementia.
Because, in 10 years of going to this conference, this year’s has been the most positive and upbeat AAIC I’ve been to. Before now, there have been some really difficult years, where it’s felt like all we’ve heard have been frustrating failures. But that’s all changing. There was a buzz in Amsterdam, and not just because of the headline findings – the positive phase 3 trial results for donanemab, a new drug for early Alzheimer’s.
Obviously, the donanemab results were wonderful to see, and it was great to be in the room to hear from the team behind that drug and those who ran the trial. We’ve had our spokespeople out in force responding to the results in the media, and we’ve had some prominent coverage that’s really helped set the agenda of what needs to happen next, to ensure people in the UK can benefit from these advances.
But it was more than just one drug. It was sense of momentum, excitement, and pride in what we’ve achieved as a community. Donanemab is the second Alzheimer’s drug that’s had a positive phase 3 trial. The first, lecanemab, was announced back in December 2022 and has now been licensed for use in the United States. So perhaps just as significant as donanemab read-out was a session looking at ‘appropriate use recommendations’ for lecanemab, where clinicians – mainly those in the US – discussed exactly how to roll out this drug, who to give it to, how to monitor them for side effects. Our US colleagues will be learning so much as they start to deliver this drug to patients. As we look to UK regulators to make as swift a decision as possible, I’m sure our clinicians will be eager to put this learning into practice as soon as they can.
It was also great to see so much rapid progress being made in the field of blood tests for Alzheimer’s, the subject of several sessions at the conference. It feels like this field jumps forward every few months, and it can’t be too much longer before these tests are ready for clinical implementation (something we’re working hard on too). This will be vital in ensuring equitable access to the new drugs as they arrive.
But as well as the sessions, for me these conferences are a great opportunity to connect with other leaders in the field, with peers at other charities and foundations, and with scientists and clinicians at the coal face of dementia research.
In my capacity as co-chair of the UK Government’s Dementia Mission, I was really pleased to announce more detail about the Mission’s roadmap, alongside my co-chair Nadeem Sarwar, and speakers from the Office of Life Sciences, the National Institute of Health Research, and the MHRA. We’ve set out bold ambitions to make the UK a leader in research into dementia. In particular, our focus is on three areas: invigorating the UK’s clinical trials environment; developing better ways to reliably and quickly measure whether new drugs are working in trials; and ensuring patients gain access to new drugs as soon as we can.
I’m excited, leaving AAIC, to think about what lies ahead. It’s clear that, after the frustrations of yesteryear, research is now really delivering for people affected by dementia, and how with the right support and investment, it can continue to deliver for generations to come.