Brexit and a new Prime Minister – what now for dementia research?

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By Kirsty Marais | Monday 18 July 2016

It’s been a bumpy few weeks in UK politics, with the EU referendum result triggering a chain of events that started with the resignation of the Prime Minister, and has so far culminated in a new face at the helm of Government and a series of new Cabinet Ministers. The full effects of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union are yet to become clear, but we know they will be far-reaching and as Theresa May takes the reins as Prime Minister, many interested parties will be watching to see how the negotiations take shape. Here at Alzheimer’s Research UK, our primary concern is of course to understand the possible impact of Brexit on dementia research.

Before the referendum, we blogged about some of the ways EU membership affects dementia research in the UK. In many ways the EU has been positive for UK science, providing access to funding programmes such as Horizon 2020, and enabling cross-border collaborations and sharing of data and resources. Simplified and harmonised regulation across the EU has also been beneficial in many areas of research, particularly for clinical trials taking place at multiple sites across Europe, where standardised rules have made these studies easier to carry out.

While it’s not yet clear that we will lose these or other benefits, Alzheimer’s Research UK is keen to ensure that our changing relationship with the EU will not damage our researchers’ ability to continue their vital work. We know that many of our researchers will be feeling anxious at reports suggesting uncertainty around UK scientists’ involvement in EU grant applications, and we are heartened that last week Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, promised to investigate these reports. Meanwhile, EU scientists who are currently carrying out valuable research in the UK may be concerned about their futures, and Alzheimer’s Research UK will be arguing for this important expertise to be retained. It will be critical that, as our newly-formed Government negotiates an exit deal, the factors that have helped boost UK science are protected. UK-based researchers must not lose out on crucial funding, or find themselves less able to participate in vital international collaborations.

With the former Minister for Life Sciences taking up a new post as a result of the Government reshuffle, this role is currently vacant and at the time of writing, it’s not clear whether it will be filled or scrapped altogether. In either case, we believe that to protect UK life science research – and with it dementia research – there must be scientific representation at the exit negotiations.

Prime Minister’s Challenge

Over the last few years, UK dementia research has also been boosted by a political will to tackle the condition. Following on from the first Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia, former PM David Cameron renewed this commitment last year with a new five-year strategy for fighting dementia. Our new Prime Minister will of course have numerous priorities to juggle as she takes office, but Alzheimer’s Research UK will be campaigning to make sure that dementia research does not fall from the agenda.

The fight against dementia is making progress, but with 850,000 people in the UK living with this devastating condition, now is not the time to take the foot off the accelerator. Families across the country are counting on us to ensure that the search for new treatments continues, and we will be holding our politicians to account on the promises they have made on dementia research.

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Kirsty Marais

Team: Campaigning