Top dementia experts identify gaps holding back potential treatments

10 July 2019

Leading dementia figures from universities, pharmaceutical companies and charities have today identified six gaps in dementia research that present new opportunities to speed up the search for the first life-changing treatment for the condition.

The work, funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, calls for a fresh focus on how research is conducted, including new approaches to clinical trials and incentives for scientists to increase collaboration to bring about potential treatments faster. The review is published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Since the G8 committed to finding a life-changing treatment for people with dementia in 2013, scientists have worked hard to bring about a treatment by 2025. Now, this all-encompassing examination held by Alzheimer’s Research UK, reviews the barriers that pose a threat to research progress and importantly suggests new ways to accelerate the development of a life-changing treatment.

Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, chaired a panel of experts including Prof Sir Simon Lovestone, formerly of Oxford University and now at Janssen-Cilag Limited, Prof Nick Fox, Professor of Neurology and Group Leader at the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI), as well as representatives from the Dementia Discovery Fund and other research funders.

The panel stressed that a more integrated and collaborative approach was key to helping dementia researchers make progress faster. Additionally, the panel identified ways to standardise approaches and re-think both early and late-stage clinical trials.

The review lays out six opportunities to accelerate dementia research:

  • Investigate the effects of newly identified genetic risk factors on disease processes.
  • Improve understanding of why some brain nerve cells are more resilient than others.
  • Bolster early drug discovery work to identify the most promising new treatment targets.
  • Ensure the right selection of participants for clinical trials.
  • Improve ways to measure how effectively drugs are working in people.
  • Find ways to begin clinical trials in people decades earlier than we do today.

To be able to work towards these goals, the experts highlighted incentives were needed for researchers to publish all findings as quickly as possible, share study data, and promote and facilitate dementia research between scientific disciplines.

Prof Nick Fox, Group Leader at the UK DRI said:

“Initiatives like the UK Dementia Research Institute are helping bring together researchers across centres and disciplines but with the number of dementia researchers still small compared to other disease areas, collaborative working is essential for us to make progress at pace.

“There’s also clear need to think carefully about how we do translational research in dementia. With limited funding comes limited shots on goal, so we must be confident we’re supporting and incentivising quality research. This paper outlines the need to focus efforts on the most important mechanisms driving these diseases, on ensuring that findings are robust and on designing our clinical trials in the smartest way to test potential new medicines.”

The review echoes Alzheimer’s Research UK’s call on the government to increase and facilitate research improvements to make breakthroughs possible for people with dementia.

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Despite a change in public attitudes towards dementia in recent years, and record investments in research through public donations to charities like Alzheimer’s Research UK, we know more must be done to deliver a life-changing dementia treatment.

“The diseases driving dementia are complex. Making progress in research involves reviewing what’s working well and what’s not and taking brave new steps to move things forward. This paper outlines steps that industry, charity and funders can take through training, rewards and funding programmes, but we must also see sustained government funding to enable innovation.

“With four times more funding going to cancer research, dementia research has not yet seen the necessary support needed to change the lives of people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK is calling on government to improve the lives of people with dementia by increasing its annual dementia research investment to equal just 1% of the societal cost of the condition.”

Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK. The condition affects 850,000 people and costs the UK economy £26bn each year.

Learn more about the suggestions by reading ‘Tackling gaps in developing life-changing treatments for dementia’.

Read more about Alzheimer’s Research UK’s call for increased government investment by going to