By Alicia Simpson
Alzheimer’s Research UK announced a first of its kind in Europe this week with the launch of a Drug Discovery Institute to develop new treatments for dementia.
With the G8 Dementia Summit one month away, the UK’s leading dementia research charity will fund the new institute to address a gap it says the pharmaceutical industry has failed to fill. It will unite the divide between academic research, which provides much of the fundamental insight into neurodegenerative disease, and the development of new treatments.
The charity has today called for the UK’s foremost universities to apply to host the Institute. Its work will be guided by Alzheimer’s Research UK and leading drug discovery experts from the dementia field, and is set to have its lead scientists in place by next year.
The Director of Research for Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr Eric Karran, is launching the Drug Discovery Institute. Dr Karran said: “We currently have no treatments that act against the disease processes that cause dementia; this Institute will change that. The Institute will be the first of its kind in Europe, and will follow successful models established in other disease areas like cancer. As the population ages, numbers of people living with dementia will grow; the need for treatments that can improve quality of life or slow or stop diseases like Alzheimer’s cannot be overstated.”
Finding medicines for complex diseases such as this solicits an amalgamation of clinical expertise, pioneering basic science and patient involvement. The new Drug Discovery Institute will aim to combine all three by setting up its home with a leading academic group that has close access to clinical research units and hospitals.
Dr Karran said: “The Drug Discovery Institute is the missing link between the UK’s considerable expertise in fundamental science, and industry who can turn discoveries into benefits for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK is in a unique position to bring the academic and industrial sectors together in the interests of tackling our greatest medical challenge and it is the right time to launch this drive.”
Dementia currently affects at least 35.6 million people worldwide, and the numbers are projected to almost double every 20 years, according to the World Health Organization. 60,000 deaths a year are also directly attributable to dementia.
Professor Bart de Strooper was awarded the MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research in 2007 for his contribution to dementia research. De Strooper said: “The Drug Discovery Institute is exactly the kind of long-term thinking that we need to develop effective new treatments for people with dementia. Dementia researchers from across Europe and beyond will be watching its progress with anticipation.”
Dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year, which is more than both cancer and heart disease combined. It is hoped that the launch of the Drug Discovery Institute will enable reductions to the economic cost, as well as the huge personal cost, of dementia.
Rosemary Goddard is the Alzheimer’s Research UK champion. Her husband was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s seven years ago. Goddard said: “I’m delighted to see Alzheimer’s Research UK taking the lead in this search for more effective drugs. With the population living longer, dementia is hanging over us all like the sword of Damocles, and I have to hope that research will defeat this dreadful condition.”