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Home » Neurology » Too big to tackle? UK’s leading cause of death ‘too big to ignore’

Professor Claude Wischik

CEO and Co-founder, TauRx

Dr Sonya Miller

Head of Medical Affairs, TauRx

Despite being the UK’s leading cause of death, according to a recent dementia conference, accessing a dementia diagnosis and treatment is a frustrating challenge for patients and families alike.

“There is perhaps a slight misconception that people with dementia are well informed, well supported and well connected,” says Dr Sonya Miller, Head of Medical Affairs, TauRx. “There are certainly amazing organisations within the UK, who give people lots of support and information. But getting initial guidance from healthcare professionals to then signpost to those societies and associations is sometimes difficult”.

However, it is an issue that the government and the medical profession are currently prioritising. “The Scottish Government’s campaign is called ‘everyone’s story’ and highlights that almost everyone knows someone who is affected.” says Dr Miller, “It’s something that most people fear or think ‘will this happen to me when I’m older at some point?’ However, the disease often has a different trajectory for each person.”

Accessing the pathway via GPs

People who find themselves or a loved one exhibiting early signs of dementia – forgetfulness, communication issues, confusion – usually present at their GP.

From there both the GP and patient “look out for signs” and control certain risk factors – diet, exercise, sleep – before progressing to a neurologist, psychiatrist or a memory clinic, which take a deeper look at brain health.

You can’t access treatment without an official diagnosis, and you can’t be diagnosed without seeing multiple medical professionals, even if the symptoms seem glaringly obvious.

“Getting a diagnosis relieves a lot of uncertainty,” says Professor Claude Wischik, CEO and Co-founder, TauRx, “It’s important that people receive reassurance. Getting a diagnosis is as big an adjustment for the family as it is for the person directly affected.”

Depending on when you get diagnosed, slowing
the condition down is priority number one.

Streamlining the way to accurate diagnosis

“Current diagnostic pathways are a bit long and a difficult to access, and it is quite frustrating for both physicians and the patients and their families because it does take a lot of time. And the support is often quite variable,” says Dr Miller.

However, technology is evolving to streamline this initial diagnosis stage. An app is under development, that enables people to monitor themselves, “then if they are concerned they are prompted to see their GP who will have access to an advanced version of the technology to support a thorough diagnosis,” says Professor Wischik.

In a dream future, it will be comparable to people who have high blood pressure where the GP only refers the particularly challenging cases to specialists.

Breakthroughs for treatment

When you are diagnosed, treatment then becomes the focal point. Depending on when you are diagnosed, slowing the condition down is priority number one.

Significant scientific developments are happening: in particular, there are new treatments and being developed targeting the key pathological processes underlying Alzheimer’s, including amyloid and tau. Amyloid based treatments on market in the US are administered by regular intravenous infusions of a drug designed to reduce the amyloid plaques in the brain. Tau treatments are aimed at reducing tau aggregation and tangles, which are closely associated with cognitive symptoms of the disease. 

Recently completed clinical trials by TauRx, focused on the development of a tau-targeting drug, indicate sustained cognitive benefits following announcement of their 24-month data1. “A practical benefit of the experimental treatment is that it can be taken orally,” says Prof Wischik. “It could fit within the current standard care pathway for patients, and it doesn’t need an intravenous treatment clinic or special monitoring for side effects.”

Ultimately, “I want to project a message of positive progress”, says Prof Wischik, given that we see the government is taking on board what the medical professionals are telling them and supporting progress through initiatives such as the Dementia Mission. With potential new treatments and technologies in the process of development, “We are in the midst of managing dementia in terms of the drugs that could soon be available and the resources, and yes, I can say I’ve got a very clear sense that we’re on the move now.”

[1] TauRx Press release dated 7th March 2024 

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