The number of people living with dementia worldwide is set to treble by 2050 to 135 million, according to the World Health Organization. Yet worryingly, there are currently no medicines that can prevent or cure this common disorder. The same can be said of other conditions that affect the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease or stroke.
This shortage in new neurology treatments – from depression through to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases – is down to the science, which in this area is particularly challenging. The main reason for this is the complexity of the brain - this 1.5kg organ is very difficult to understand.
The human brain is a particularly challenging area for scientists
Through the Innovative Medicines Initiative, we are working with other pharmaceutical companies, universities, research organisations, public bodies and patient groups, conducting trials and sharing knowledge. We hope this will speed up the evaluation of new drug candidates to the benefit of the broad scientific community and ultimately, patients.
Another public-private initiative we are involved with brings together key UK academic and pharmaceutical research centres. Set up by the Medical Research Council, the UK Dementia Platform aims to improve the ability to detect signs of early-stage neurodegenerative disease, and to support the development of new treatments.
The hope is that this platform will make it possible to identify important disease trends that can be used to indicate those people at risk of dementias. And with a more comprehensive understanding of these characteristics, we hope to be able to better identify the most appropriate patients to participate in our human clinical studies.
More recently, we have committed funding to the Dementia Discovery Fund. Established by the UK Government as part of its long-term strategy to boost research, improve care and raise public awareness of dementia, the international investment scheme provide critical financial support and expert advice during the early stages of research to accelerate the development of innovative new treatments. The fund unites investors from the private, public and philanthropic sectors under a single scheme to finance a range of research projects. A governing board of scientific experts will identify potential approaches with the best chance of future success.
“Dementia research is one of the most complex and challenging areas of R&D but the collaborative efforts of the community are evolving along with the science,” Marina continues.
We think there are real opportunities to accelerate our understanding of these debilitating diseases and advance new approaches to treatment.
Bringing all these components together provides a new opportunity to overcome the challenges in neuroscience research, helping us to accelerate the delivery of much-needed new medicines to patients and reduce the economic burden to society around the world.