GSK launches global fund to prevent and treat dementia

Microscope

GlaxoSmithKline and five other major drugmakers have teamed up with the UK government to launch the world’s first venture capital fund dedicated to finding new ways to prevent and treat dementia.

The Department of Health, the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK and the six pharmaceutical firms have raised $100m (£65m) to invest in early-stage, novel treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other forms of dementia. GSK’s boss, Sir Andrew Witty, has been one of the main driving forces behind the initiative, in which the company is joined by the US drugmakers Johnson & Johnson, Biogen, Eli Lilly and Pfizer, and Japan’s Takeda.

The goal of the dementia discovery fund is to come up with early diagnosis and effective treatment by 2025. The initiative was born at the G8 dementia summit in London in December 2013.

Dennis Gillings, the UK-appointed world dementia envoy, said: “Dementia is a ticking bomb and with the global cost of dementia care expected to reach over $1tn by 2030 we must continue to do more. Research is currently not delivering the results we need. We need early and accurate diagnosis, effective treatment and improved care and support to avoid serious economic and social impacts.”

More than 40 million people around the world have dementia and the number is expected to triple to 135 million by 2050, but there are currently no medicines to prevent or cure the conditions in question. The drugs available merely ease some of the symptoms. This is due to the complexity of the brain and the slow onset of the disease.

Many big pharmaceutical companies have turned their back on neuroscience research in recent years, because it is far more risky and costly than other areas. Dementia receives only a fifth of the money invested in diseases such as cancer.

Biogen and Eli Lilly are working on new treatments for Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. In July, Eli Lilly’s solanezumab became the first drug that appeared to slow the pace of patients’ deterioration.

GSK is giving $25m to the fund, the biggest contribution, and the UK government is giving $22m. Johnson & Johnson is putting in $10m, with the remaining $43m coming from the other companies.

Kate Bingham, a managing partner at SV Life Sciences, which will manage the fund, dampened hopes of a cure for Alzheimer’s, but said that it should be possible to develop a treatment over the next 10 years that halts the progression of the disease. “There is enormous enthusiasm from academia,” she said.

She stressed that the fund would be able to move quickly, within weeks if necessary, to invest in promising treatments and help fund research at universities, biotech or pharmaceutical firms. The global heads of neuroscience and R&D from the six companies involved in the initiative will hold three face-to-face meetings a year with the fund managers to share their expertise.

The first meeting is scheduled for 12 November, and Bingham is in the process of recruiting two top neuroscientists from industry in Boston and London to help advise on investments.

Patrick Vallance, GSK’s head of R&D, said: “This is a complex and costly area of research, and if we’re to succeed in developing innovative new treatments, we must be prepared to work together and jointly shoulder the risk of ambitious new approaches.”

The London launch of the fund comes after a series of other public-private initiatives. The Dementias Platform UK, a £53m research project, was set up by the Medical Research Council last year, bringing together six pharmaceutical companies including GSK and eight universities. It pooled 22 studies to create the largest group of people taking part in dementia research worldwide.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Julia Kollewe, for The Guardian on Wednesday 21st October 2015 00.01 Europe/London

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