How can Rishi Sunak’s new government help deliver life-changing treatments for dementia?


By Samantha Benham-Hermetz | Wednesday 26 October 2022

How can Rishi Sunak’s new government help deliver life-changing treatments for dementia?

Dementia is the biggest health challenge of our lifetime. Now is the time for Rishi Sunak to deliver political leadership that capitalises upon the breakthroughs that are on the horizon, that could change the lives of people with dementia and their families across the UK.

The recently announced Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission, and the forthcoming 10-Year Plan, provide ideal vehicles for ambitious action.

But what does Alzheimer’s Research UK want to see?

1) Deliver on its promise to double dementia research funding

The government must honour its 2019 election promise, and more recently its recommitment, to double dementia research funding to £160m a year by 2024.

Government investment in research into other diseases, such as cancer and HIV, has delivered transformative change for people living with those conditions. We want to see the same for people affected by dementia.

Investment of this size would strengthen the UK’s position as a global leader in dementia research. This is vital for attracting further research investment to support UK science and providing strong foundations for our emerging health technology sector.

2) Support earlier and more accurate diagnosis in the NHS

We need to dramatically improve the way we currently diagnose dementia. Too many people wait years to receive a formal diagnosis, and one in three people go undiagnosed.

Investment into cutting-edge diagnostic technology means one day we could detect the diseases that cause dementia 10-15 years earlier than we can today. If an early detection tool was implemented throughout the NHS, such as in regular health checks, this would enable individuals to better understand and manage their condition, volunteer for clinical trials and be best placed to benefit from new treatments.

Early detection also enables individuals to better manage their risk of developing dementia through addressing modifiable risk factors – like smoking and exercise – and taking action to support their brain health.

3) Increase participation and diversity in dementia research

Participation in dementia clinical trials is a long way behind other major diseases. For instance, fewer than 2% of dementia patients are recruited to clinical trials, compared with 20% of cancer patients. And many groups who are disproportionately affected by dementia – including women and people from BAME communities – are underrepresented in research.

Government action is needed to improve awareness among the public and clinicians so that opportunities to get involved in dementia research, like those through Join Dementia Research, are not overlooked.

4) Establish a network of high-performing clinical trial sites

For patients in the UK to be among the first to benefit from potential new treatments, this country must be a leading location for clinical trials. But when it comes to delivering late-stage trials, we’re lagging behind Europe and the US.

If we’re to be a serious science superpower, we need to see a network of high-performing trial sites locating across the UK, with a single contracting and costing model that would avoid complicated negotiations with the NHS and pharmaceutical companies.

This would provide a critical mass of expertise and a thriving sector that would drive increased scale in clinical trials and allow those trials to deliver results sooner.

5) Prepare the NHS to deliver new treatments

You may be thinking, if a dementia treatment became available tomorrow, could the NHS deliver it to those who need it? The simple answer is “no”.

Right now, we don’t diagnose people early enough and accurately enough to identify who would benefit from a new treatment, and we don’t have the physical or workforce infrastructure within primary care to deliver a new treatment and monitor patients’ progress.

The news about lecanemab must be a catalyst for urgent government action to ensure the UK’s health system is ready to roll out new licenced therapies as quickly as possible.

Together, Rishi Sunak and Steve Barclay, as Prime Minister and Health Secretary, have both the opportunity and the responsibility to deliver on the government’s existing commitments. This will go far in helping to end the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is here to support government to achieve this, and we won’t stop until they do.


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Samantha Benham-Hermetz