Dementia Forum 2015 report: a global call to action

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By Dr Matthew Norton | Wednesday 18 February 2015

Today’s headlines feature a new report from the World Innovation Health Summit Dementia Forum 2015, which underlines the need for global action to tackle dementia. The report makes recommendations to help fight dementia – including steps to attract new investment for research – and outlines some of the obstacles that have hampered research so far.

The report shines a necessary spotlight on some of the challenges facing dementia research today. Among those challenges is a perception that – following a number of failed clinical trials for dementia – major pharmaceutical companies are finding it challenging to invest in this area, fearing that diseases like Alzheimer’s are too tough to crack. Yet we need their involvement more than ever, and there are good reasons to believe that this challenge can be met.

It’s more than a decade since the last treatment for Alzheimer’s disease was licensed in the UK. Until relatively recently dementia was poorly understood, but the tide is beginning to turn: scientists now have a much better understanding of the mechanisms involved in the diseases that cause dementia, and how they might be tackled.

The task now is to make sure we capitalise on that understanding and translate promising findings into treatments. Alzheimer’s Research UK, the government and other funders have a big role to play here, but with the sort of investment needed to get new treatments to patients, we can’t do it without the pharmaceutical industry. That’s why we’re working to help encourage them to stay involved: initiatives like our Drug Discovery Alliance, dedicated to early-stage drug discovery, will help feed through more drug targets to be taken forward into clinical testing. We’ve also developed new ways of working with pharmaceutical companies, with Eisai and Lilly stepping up to the challenge as part of the Dementia Consortium. The initiative is designed to help academic findings translate swiftly into viable treatments by fast-tracking them into pharmaceutical development. These projects help create a new market for potential drugs to reignite R&D.

Dementia’s impact is already enormous, and it’s going to get bigger. In the UK 830,000 people are living with the condition. As our population ages, that number will exceed 1m by 2025. Behind those statistics are hundreds of thousands of families ripped apart by the condition, each with their own stories of heartbreak and devastation. They deserve better. It’s up to all of us to ensure they get it.

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About the author

Dr Matthew Norton

Dr Matthew Norton joined Alzheimer's Research UK as Head of Policy and Public Affairs in 2013 and lead on policy development and stakeholder engagement up to 2018. He has a PhD in Social Policy and experience of supporting the design and running of bio-medical and clinical research for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Matthew has also worked as a Senior Policy Advisor at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit and prior to joining Alzheimer’s Research UK worked in policy and research for Age UK.