Dr Sonya Miller
Head of Medical Affairs, TauRx
Professor Bjoern Schelter
CEO, GT Diagnostics and Chief Analytics Officer, TauRx
Professor Claude Wischik
CEO and Co-founder, TauRx
New treatments are urgently needed to support patients with dementia as cases, globally, are set to soar beyond the 150 million mark by 2050.
As people live longer, dementia cases are rising and could soon hit 150-plus million worldwide. Yet, there has been no new dementia treatment in the UK for two decades.
The most common cause of the neurodegenerative disease is Alzheimer’s, accounting for 60–70% of all cases, but other causes include vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Complexity for patients with dementia
Professor Bjoern Schelter explains there can be lengthy diagnostic pathways for the condition, starting with early symptoms of people forgetting things more often.
“From there,” he continues, “it is a consultation with a primary care physician, specialist appointments and further assessment. These can be questionnaire-based, involve neuroimaging and blood tests, and it often takes 6–12 months for a diagnosis.”
While GPs are under increasing pressure, his colleague Dr Sonya Miller believes there’s an opportunity for family doctors to take a more proactive role; but to do this, they need support and better diagnostic tools.
“GPs are a logical group to be empowered to take this on. Dementia is a complex disease and an increasing problem that cannot remain a speciality disease.”
Growing demand for treatments
Dr Miller says patient advocacy groups do an amazing job of raising awareness and working to destigmatise the disease and offer support to patients and families. “Next, we need support of primary care providers to recognise, diagnose and refer as required,” she says.
A concern has been the lack of new treatments, at a time when more people are needing diagnosis and treatment.
Dr Miller, Head of Medical Affairs at Aberdeen-based TauRx, a company focused on neurodegeneration therapies targeting tau pathology, points to the extraordinarily long journey toward new dementia drugs. However, she also believes much of the research and complex trials conducted since the early 2000s are coming to fruition.
We require a whole societal paradigmDr Sonya Miller
shift in thinking about brain health.
Ongoing clinical trials
One driver of Alzheimer’s is an accumulation of aggregated tau protein inside nerve cells. TauRx is developing a potential treatment targeting this pathology directly, which is in the latter stages of clinical trials.
The company’s CEO and co-founder, Professor Claude Wischik, says that if the results continue to be positive, it will accelerate diagnosis and treatment. The drug, and smarter diagnostic tools, will “empower primary care physicians to become active much earlier in the whole patient journey.”
While his organisation has concentrated on the development of a drug to target the process of tau aggregation directly, he also acknowledges other parallel research looking at amyloid pathology.
Modernising the diagnostic process
Meanwhile, Professor Schelter, CEO of TauRx sister company GT Diagnostics — which is working to develop digital and artificial intelligence (AI) tools to enhance the diagnostic process, reduce the timeline to diagnosis and support early treatment — says dementia diagnostics need to be brought into the 21st century.
“We need robust diagnostics that can detect the disease at very early stages and very efficiently, in a primary care setting.”
With 152 million people expected to be suffering from dementia by 2050, the fear is that healthcare systems could be overwhelmed without new treatments. “A safe and efficient treatment is needed to stop the disease process very early on, then these diagnostic tools become monitoring tools for the effectiveness of treatments,” he says.
Rethinking brain health
Within the diagnostic and monitoring process, smartphones/tablets can use intuitive AI to interpret psychometric questionnaires, blood tests and brain imaging.
Patients also need to be proactive in keeping their brains healthy through lifestyle choices, says Dr Miller: “We require a whole societal paradigm shift in thinking about brain health.”
Underpinning that, she adds, are new diagnostics and an oral medication for dementia. By treating dementia with more urgency, we can be better prepared to manage it — today and in the future.