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Five years on from the G8 Dementia Summit: what have we achieved?

Kirsty MaraisClare van LyndenSusan MitchellEmily CookEmma HardwickHelen DaviesMelody Paton Borchardt

It’s been five years since world leaders gathered to develop an action plan for dementia. The G8 Dementia Summit resulted in a global ambition to find a cure or disease-modifying treatment for dementia by 2025 – so what progress are we making towards that goal?

What was the G8 Dementia Summit?

In December 2013, then Prime Minister David Cameron used the UK’s presidency of the G8 to convene world health leaders to discuss a global response to dementia. It was a pivotal moment for dementia research: the first time the impact of the condition began to receive worldwide attention and, crucially, the first time international politicians collectively acknowledged a need to do something about it.

The summit ended with health ministers committing to a significant increase in investment in dementia research, with the aim of finding a disease-modifying treatment for the condition by 2025. The agreement also included a commitment to develop a co-ordinated international action plan for research, and saw the creation of the World Dementia Council, which was tasked with helping deliver the plan. At the time, we greeted these commitments as a major step forward:

“This action plan is the best possible news for people living with dementia. It tells them that the world will fight for them, and that the best and most collaborative science is our greatest weapon.

It’s now incumbent on all of us – charities, government and industry – to step up our research efforts to meet this ambition.”

Hilary Evans, Alzheimer’s Research UK

Tomorrow, the World Dementia Council will come together to examine the progress that’s been made, and what is still needed to reach the 2025 goal.

Five years of progress

Since 2013, we have seen government investment in research begin to increase – including in the UK where the country’s largest joint endeavour in dementia research so far, the UK Dementia Research Institute, is now home to teams of scientists who are studying dementia from every angle. The UK government also founded the Dementia Discovery Fund, the world’s first investment fund to support early-stage drug discovery projects. We were proud to be a founding partner in this key initiative, which has recently welcomed new investors including philanthropist Bill Gates.

In the UK, increased funding was followed by a near doubling in the number of dementia researchers, and in the number of new research findings being published. Meanwhile Join Dementia Research, a national service set up in the wake of the summit to help recruit more people to dementia studies, has helped 10,000 willing volunteers take part in pioneering research.

At Alzheimer’s Research UK, we’ve also made it our mission to bring about a life-changing dementia treatment by 2025, and with your support we’re working steadily to reach that goal. Since 2013, we’ve launched strategic initiatives such as our Drug Discovery Alliance and the Dementia Consortium, with the key aim of fast-tracking the development of new treatments – and today these initiatives are supporting world-class science investigating a range of potential treatments for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Thanks to all this activity, we now understand more than ever before about the diseases that cause dementia:

  • We have learnt more about the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, with new medicines targeting this process now in development.
  • Specialist brain scans that can visualise amyloid, a key protein that builds in the brain in Alzheimer’s, are routinely used in research, while researchers can now also track the build-up of a second dementia protein called tau.
  • Globally, the number of dementia treatments in clinical trials has also more than doubled since 2013, with these treatments also targeting a wider range of biological processes – giving us more chance of success.
  • Our understanding of dementia risk factors has advanced, guiding new strategies to help people improve their brain health and reduce their risk of dementia.
  • And big data and new technology are revolutionising the way we approach research, offering the potential to transform the way we diagnose and treat dementia.

What comes next?

We’re seeing real progress towards a life-changing treatment, but progress in research doesn’t come about overnight. It’s built from thousands of discoveries that, over time, are translated into breakthroughs that can ultimately change lives. There’s still a lot of work to do.

And this work can only happen if we have the right funding and support in place. We’ve seen that increased investment has led to an increase in research activity – but despite this, dementia research still lags behind other serious conditions, with just one scientist working on dementia for every four cancer researchers in the UK. Not only must support for research continue, but we have to pick up the pace.

That’s why at Alzheimer’s Research UK we’ve pledged to commit £250m to research by 2025 – a pledge that can only be made possible with the help of our incredible supporters. But this must continue to be a collective response: governments, charities, industry and the public all have a part to play. Here in the UK, for example, we’re calling for the government to commit to investing the equivalent of just 1% of the annual cost of dementia in research.

A life-changing treatment by 2025 is an ambitious target – but we truly believe that it’s a target we can achieve. With your help, we can and will make breakthroughs possible.

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