G8 gathers to confront Alzheimer’s

Global dementia consortium aims to defeat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025 through a concerted effort

Lori Lesko
LONDON—With a heightened urgency to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, global leaders in pharma, research, academia and industry have joined forces to launch a series of dementia consortium summits through 2015, targeted toward closing the gap between academic research’s new drug targets and the pharmaceutical industry’s drug discovery programs.
 
On Dec. 11, the United Kingdom hosted a dementia consortium summit of G8 (representing the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Germany and Russia) in London, where leading academic dementia research experts from Alzheimer’s Research UK and MRC Technology’s networks discussed developing early findings into validated drug targets.
 
Could there be a future without Alzheimer’s? That is the goal of the consortium.
 
Dementia affects more than 35 million people worldwide, a number that is expected to almost double every 20 years. In the United Kingdom alone, dementia affects 820,000 people, with 25 million U.K. residents reportedly knowing a close friend or family member with dementia. As well as the huge personal cost, dementia costs the U.K. economy £23 billion a year, or the equivalent of some $38 billion—more than cancer and heart disease combined.
 
The United States will host the consortium in February 2015 with other global experts, including the World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, to review the progress made on the consortium’s research agenda.
 
For its part, to stimulate and harness innovation and to catalyze global investment, the United Kingdom has appointed a global dementia innovation envoy to attract new sources of finance, including the possibility of developing private and philanthropic funds.
 
The consortium has made available £3 million, or about $4.97 million (£2 million from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, and £500,000 each from Eisai Co. Ltd. and Eli Lilly and Co.), and a call will go out in the United Kingdom and internationally for academic teams to apply for funding to develop their targets.
 
“The G8 is an ideal platform to launch this important drug discovery collaboration, as it exemplifies the new kind of partnership we need to produce breakthrough treatments,” stated Dr. Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, in a news release about the summit. “The dementia consortium draws on the strengths of the academic and industrial research sectors and complements the work of our new Drug Discovery Institute, allowing us to both invest in dedicated drug discovery resource, as well as supporting the ideas from across the dementia research sector.”
 
 “There are many scientists doing excellent work both in the academic sector and in industry, but historically there has not been strong links between the two sectors,” Karran tells DDNews. “The consortium exists to create new links and bridge this gap, enabling academic teams to pursue promising ideas, while matching them up with pharmaceutical companies with the specialist resources and expertise to translate their findings.”
 
“With this new approach, we aim to bring forward new drug targets emerging from academia that may not previously have been capitalized on as quickly,” he adds. “There has also been a lack of funding for dementia research in general for many years, and investment still lags behind other serious conditions. This is beginning to change with recent government pledges for increased investment, but with funding starting from such a low base, we still need to see a huge increase to take us to a level appropriate to the scale of the condition. To find solutions to the challenge presented by dementia we need investment from as many sources as possible—the dementia consortium is one part of this.”
 
Alzheimer’s Research UK is optimistic that it might be possible to beat the G8’s 2025 target to conquer Alzheimer’s, “but this will depend on success in current clinical development and increased investment being made in research,” Karran says. “It’s encouraging to see funding for research moving in the right direction, but these commitments still fall short of what Alzheimer’s Research UK believes is needed—a doubling of funding by 2020, and again by 2025, would bring investment to a level proportionate to the impact of dementia as a global health crisis.”
 
The dementia consortium’s goal is to “move research into new drug targets to the ‘lead optimization’ phase, where compounds being tested have shown promise in a living system and there is confidence that a new drug could be produced,” Karran explains.
 
Despite sharing sobering statistics on Alzheimer’s, Karran believes there “is a real sense of optimism that we are making progress and with enough research, treatments capable of preventing or slowing the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s could become a reality,” and he adds that the consortium will aim to speed up the process of taking leads from research to eventual testing in clinical trials.
 
“Outside of the consortium, there are a number of drugs currently in clinical trials, but we need to see different approaches explored for the best chance of success, something that the consortium aims to help boost,” Karran says. ”In addition, like other complex diseases, it is unlikely that a single medicine will provide the maximum benefit available.
 
The December G8 summit saw both the U.S. and the U.K., alongside the six other G8 countries, commit to increased funding for dementia research with the aim of finding a cure or disease-modifying treatment by 2025, Karran said, adding: “Beyond this joint commitment from politicians, there are many collaborations already under way between researchers in the U.S., the U.K. and farther afield, and we hope this collaborative approach will be strengthened by recent developments on the political stage.”
 
Justin Bryans, director of drug discovery at MRC Technology, said in an official statement about the summit that “This new consortium model leads the way by bringing together the very best charity, industry and academic expertise in precompetitive collaboration to accelerate much-needed treatments towards patients. We hope to develop further consortia based on this model for other areas of unmet medical need.”
 
Speaking to DDNews, Bryans adds that “a promising dementia target is a molecule, usually a protein, within the human body that has the potential to be disease modifying or cognition enhancing when targeted by a drug. By pooling knowledge, expertise and funding the consortium aims to increase the rate at which new biological discoveries are transformed into potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.”
 
MRC Technology’s role, he says, “is twofold—first, to use its extensive network of academic contacts to help identify the promising projects for drug discovery based collaborations. In addition, MRC Technology will provide scientific resources, including chemistry, biology and antibody engineering from within MRCT’s own research facility—the Centre for Therapeutics Discovery—to help progress those projects towards clinical impact.”
 
The company has an “extensive network of academic contacts in the U.S. and already has formal relationships with a number of highly regarded intuitions,” Bryans says. “It is from these places that we hope to identify collaborative programs to feed into this consortium model for the discovery of novel treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. I believe that this disease can be beaten. It will not be easy or quick, but what we have created in this consortium represents an important step—change in the way we try to identify new drugs to help these patients and their families.”
 
Dr. Mike Hutton, Eli Lilly’s chief scientific officer for neurodegeneration, stated in a news release that “Lilly is delighted to be part of this innovative collaboration to help speed the development of new treatments for dementia by accessing the remarkable quality of U.K. academic research in this area. Lilly has been active in Alzheimer’s disease research for 25 years, and we believe it is through collaboration between industry, charities and academia that we will increase the number of potential drug targets that can be investigated and become the medicines of the future.”

Lori Lesko

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