Chief Executive, Alzheimer’s Research UK
Recent developments could pave the way for a new generation of dementia treatments, but investment is critical to make this a reality.
This year has seen the first new Alzheimer’s treatment in nearly 20 years approved for use in the US. Before too long, we will know whether the drug, aducanumab, will be approved for use here in the UK.
While there is still debate about the benefits aducanumab provides, and the drug is not suitable for everyone with dementia, this was still a pivotal moment. It showed we can change the way Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, is treated. That could pave the way for a new generation of treatments that are so desperately needed by people living with all forms of dementia.
Dementia research is at a tipping point – but we must act if we are to capitalise on this moment.
Alzheimer’s starts many years before symptoms become apparent, so early detection is vital.
Focused investment is key
To refocus efforts and ensure a continued supply of treatments through the drug discovery pipeline, investment is critical. It’s now nearly two years since the UK government’s election pledge to double funding for dementia research to £160 million a year. However, this investment has yet to materialise and there is no plan for how the promised funding would be targeted.
Aducanumab, like many Alzheimer’s treatments in trials today, is designed to be given early in the disease before irreversible damage has been caused. But Alzheimer’s starts many years before symptoms become apparent, so early detection is vital.
Alzheimer’s Research UK is already leading an ambitious initiative to revolutionise our ability to identify diseases like Alzheimer’s 10-15 years before we can today. Investment directed towards early detection could transform future research, improving our understanding of these diseases and allowing new treatments to be tested earlier.
Lessons from the pandemic
The past year has shown what we can achieve when we focus energy and resources on a major worldwide challenge. Dementia is our greatest long-term global medical challenge – and as with COVID-19, research holds the potential to save millions from future devastation. The UK’s Vaccines Taskforce is recognised globally for accelerating vaccine development and offers an ambitious model for UK leadership of dementia drug discovery.
Our latest Dementia Attitudes Monitor has shown a sharp increase since 2018 in the public’s willingness to get involved in medical research for dementia, with one in 10 citing the pandemic as having shown the value of medical research. As a charity, we’ve helped more people than ever this year to get involved in dementia research – but they need studies to take part in.
Now is a critical moment and we must grasp this opportunity to move closer to a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.