Fighting Back Against Dementia
Industry Insight Dec 12, 2013
We used the opportunity to speak with Dr Justin Bryans, Director of Drug Discovery at MRC Technology to understand more about the dementia, consortium and MRC Technology's involvement.
AB: How big a problem is dementia and is this set to increase?
Dr Justin Bryans (JB): New statistics have been released by Alzheimer's Disease International which reveal that 44 million people now have dementia worldwide, a figure that is expected to hit 76 million by 2030 and 135 million 20 years later.
Dementia affects 820,000 people in the UK. 25 million of the UK population have a close friend or family member with dementia. As well as the huge personal cost, dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year, more than cancer and heart disease combined. Despite these figures, dementia research is desperately underfunded.
AB: What are the current problems with research into dementia? How does the consortium aim to overcome these?
JB: There are several problems in dementia research that need to be overcome not least to improve the diagnosis of dementia. Early on in the disease is when new treatments are most likely to be effective, so it is important to be able to diagnose people early, and accurately. However, new tools for diagnosis must go hand in hand with the development of new therapies in order to give those patients who are diagnosed hope for the future. The fact that dementia usually progresses slowly also poses problems. Clinical trials can take a long time as people need to be followed up for many years. So it is critical to ensure that the compounds going into trials are those that have the best chance of success. This is where the Consortium comes in.
The Consortium aims to bridge the gap between fundamental research into the causes of dementia and new treatments. There is a huge amount of research into the causes of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Scientists are uncovering the processes behind these diseases – the Consortium aims to collaborate with the originating scientists on these findings and develop strong evidence that hitting the target will impact on disease. Once a suitable level of confidence in the rationale has been reached the pharmaceutical partners will aim to develop drugs against these targets to test in people. The added confidence in a given target that the consortium can bring will mean new treatments for dementia can be developed quickly and with more certainty of a positive outcome in the clinic.
AB: What role is MRC Technology playing in the consortium?
JB: MRC Technology is a technology transfer and drug discovery organisation that helps bridge the gap between basic research and commercial application. MRC Technology will bring its own international network of scientists who might become Consortium applicants; it will also support academic grant holders with resource and expertise from its Centre for Therapeutics Discovery to help validate targets for further development. Resources may include access to screening technology, compound libraries, antibody engineering, cellular pharmacology and many other aspects of early stage drug discovery necessary to deliver quality tools for target validation. MRC Technology is also supporting the Consortium through the provision of a website www.dementiaconsortium.org and other project associated materials.
The other partners:
Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity with a UK-wide network of over 700 dementia research scientists, many of whom could seek project funding via the Dementia Consortium. The charity is also making £2m of funding available to support academic scientists in validating their targets.
Both Eisai and Eli Lilly are leading pharmaceutical companies with strong interests in neurodegenerative research. Both companies have committed £500,000 of funding to support academic scientists in validating their targets.
AB: The Consortium seeks to bridge the gap between industry and academia. How will this be achieved and is this a commonly cited problem in the quest for treatments and cures?
JB: The Dementia Consortium seeks to reduce the long wait for new dementia treatments by closing the gap between fundamental academic research and the pharmaceutical industry’s drug discovery capabilities. It will provide funding, resources and expertise to both increase the number of, and capitalise upon, new drug targets emerging from the academic sector that hold promise of bringing patient benefit.
The Consortium believes this is the first time partners and funding from the charity, public and private sectors in the UK have come together to expedite dementia drug treatment discovery. The Consortium will bring the academic and industrial research sectors closer together in a pre-competitive environment designed to bring about patient benefit as swiftly as possible. The approach will match drug targets from academic teams with pharmaceutical companies who are best placed with specialist resources and expertise to translate these findings into drug discovery programmes that hold the potential of helping people with dementia.