Elderly hands

Alzheimer’s Research UK, the world’s largest dedicated dementia research charity, has announced a £30 million Drug Discovery Alliance, launching three flagship Drug Discovery Institutes at the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and UCL (University College London). The Drug Discovery Institutes will see 90 new research scientists employed in state-of-the-art facilities to fast-track the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The new institute will be a world class environment in which to conduct research aimed at transforming the lives of patients living with dementia

David Rubinsztein

Dementia affects over 830,000 people in the UK and costs the UK economy £23 billion a year. Increasing political focus on improving the outlook for people with dementia in recent years has led to small increases in research funding, but there remains a desperate lack of effective treatments for those with the condition. It has been 12 years since the last treatment for dementia was licensed in the UK and while current treatments help with symptoms, they are only modestly effective and not suitable for all dementias.  At the G8 Dementia Summit one year ago, health leaders from across the world pledged a research ambition for a disease-modifying therapy for dementia by 2025.

Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Drug Discovery Alliance will make a major contribution to delivering this ambition – a network of Drug Discovery Institutes dedicated to early stage drug discovery. Each Institute will be led by a Chief Scientific Officer working in tandem with some of the UK’s leading academic researchers based at each of the three universities and Alzheimer’s Research UK’s own in-house research leaders. New ideas and breakthroughs from academic research teams in each university, and beyond, will be driven straight into the hands of dedicated biology and chemistry teams in each Institute, expert in designing and developing potential new medicines.

The Cambridge Drug Discovery Institute will be located on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the centrepiece of the largest biotech cluster outside the United States, and involves many members of Cambridge Neuroscience, a multidisciplinary network of researchers across the city. Its academic lead will be Professor David Rubinsztein, Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.

Professor Rubinsztein says: “The new institute will be a world class environment in which to conduct research aimed at transforming the lives of patients living with dementia. It will build on our strengths in basic research and its translation into new treatments for patients. Its location on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus will give it unparalleled access to scientists, clinical researchers and patient cohorts, as well as strong links with pharma and biotech companies in the region.”

With one dementia researcher for every six working on cancer, attracting new expertise to tackle the growing global health problem is crucial. Over the next five years, the Drug Discovery Institutes aim to attract around 90 world-class researchers into dementia drug discovery, who will be equipped with the latest technology and infrastructure through the hosting universities.

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Academic research is a goldmine of knowledge about diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and by tapping into the innovation, creativity, ideas and flexibility of scientists in these universities, we can re-energise the search for new dementia treatments. Working in universities and hospitals alongside people affected by dementia and their families, academic researchers are best placed to take research breakthroughs and progress them into real world benefits for the people that so desperately need them.

“The Drug Discovery Alliance is one of the first of its kind for dementia research in the world. We’re providing the investment and infrastructure that is needed to maintain and grow a healthy pipeline of potential new treatments to take forward into clinical testing. It’s only by boosting the number of promising leads to follow-up, that we’ll have the best chance of developing pioneering medicines that can change the outlook of this devastating condition.”

The Drug Discovery Alliance builds on the experiences of similar initiatives driven by cancer charities over the last two decades, which are now starting to deliver effective new treatments to patients.

Cambridge Science Festival
On Tuesday 17 March, Alzheimer’s research UK will be sponsoring an event, Dementia research in Cambridge: from bench to bedside at the 21st Cambridge Science Festival. Visitors will be able to hear short talks from researchers using different techniques from stem cells to brain scans to understand what happens in the brain in dementia and find out what progress is being made to help. 

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