UK Government Increases Funding For Dementia Research

The UK government has pledged to more than double annual funding for research into dementia and neurodegenerative diseases to over £66 million by 2014/15, in an increase from £26.6 million in 2009/10.

The commitment was announced yesterday by the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, as part of a wider dementia challenge that will build on England’s current National Dementia Strategy to increase diagnosis rates, raise public awareness and improve the quality of care.

The financial boost will increase to a projected £66.3 million, the combined value of funding for dementia research from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

The announcement comes after a backdrop of recent criticism that the UK has been falling behind in dementia research, with high-quality output but a relatively neglected research base that lags behind higher-profile categories such as cancer, stroke and heart disease.

Alzheimer’s Society Report

At the same time, a new report from the Alzheimer’s Society has mapped out the human and economic cost of dementia, both currently and for the future.

There are presently around 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK and an estimated 670,000 family members and friends acting as primary carers, the report notes.

The current financial cost of the disease to the NHS, local authorities and families is £23 billion a year, which is expected to increase to £27 billion by 2018, which is higher than cancer and heart disease combined.

“Yet this significant spend is often not being deployed effectively and is not delivering good outcomes for people with dementia and carers,” the report warns.

Shirley Cramer, acting chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, noted that Cameron’s announcement was an “important step”, although “investment must continue to increase if we are to avert the drastic economic costs of dementia that lie in wait.”

World Leader

It is a “scandal” that more had not been done already, the prime minister commented, adding that he hoped to make Britain a world leader in the field.

“One of the greatest challenges of our time is what I’d call the quiet crisis, one that steals lives and tears at the hearts of families, but that relative to its impact is hardly acknowledged,” Cameron stated.
“Dementia is simply a terrible disease. And it is a scandal that we as a country haven’t kept pace with it. The level of diagnosis, understanding and awareness of dementia is shockingly low. It is as though we’ve been in collective denial” he added.

Major Challenges

Among the main challenges are considerably increasing dementia research capacity and capability; understanding better the mechanisms of the disease and likely targets for intervention; and translating research into practice that affects quality of life.

“We would like people to feel confident that we are making significant progress towards prevention, treatment and cure in the UK, and to be able to say that they wanted to take part in research and were able to do so,” the dementia challenge document states.

The funding commitment contains £13 million for social-science research and £36 million over five years for a new National Institute for Health Research dementia translational research collaboration.

Four new NIHR biomedical research units in dementia as well as biomedical research centres whose work includes dementia-themed research “will share their considerable resources and world-leading expertise to improve treatment and care”, the UK government says.

The Medical Research Council will invest in dementia research via the long-term BioBank programme, with a brain-scan pilot expected to attract between 50,000 to 100,000 participants.

Research Participation

The government will be widening opportunities for people with dementia to take part in research.
Inviting patient consent to participate in dementia research will become part of a quality marker for memory clinics. The goal is to recruit 10% of patients into clinical trials for dementia.

Compared with other conditions such as cancer, the level of public engagement in dementia research is low, the challenge document points out.  “When people are offered the opportunity to take part in the research, they are often keen to do so,” it notes.

“However, people with dementia and their carers are not routinely offered the opportunity to participate in high-quality research and there is no nationally consistent system to enable them to do so, should they wish.”

Critical Period

Dr Michael Hutton, chief scientific officer of neurodegeneration at Eli Lilly, pointed out that a “handful” of potential new disease-modifying therapies for Alzheimer’s (AD) are now nearing the end of clinical trials.

“We are entering a critical period in the history of dementia, in which successful trial outcomes would require that healthcare systems adjust to a paradigm shift in the diagnosis and treatment of AD, whereas failure would require an adjustment in the focus of current therapeutic development and research,” he added.


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