It’s now five years to the day that the first Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge was launched, setting in motion a comprehensive government plan to tackle dementia. In March 2012, David Cameron detailed an intention to increase research funding, improve dementia care and create a national movement to spread awareness about the condition. So how have things changed since then?
Back in 2012, the annual government investment in dementia research was just £33m – roughly equivalent to the cost of building one mile of motorway. Despite affecting over 820,000 people in the UK at the time, and costing our economy over £23bn each year, dementia research was seriously hampered by a history of under-investment. UK dementia scientists punched above their weight in terms of research output, and Alzheimer’s Research UK – backed by our dedicated supporters – was striving to provide the resources needed to make a breakthrough. But a problem this big required a national response, and the political will to tackle it head-on. The Dementia Challenge was a game-changer.
A doubling of research funding, and a global effort
A key pillar of the Challenge was a pledge to double funding for dementia research by 2015, and three years on, annual government funding had indeed reached £66m. At the same time, a more strategic approach was taking shape. When the Challenge on Dementia was renewed in 2015, the pledge was not only to commit £300m to research by 2020, but to establish a dedicated Dementia Research Institute to unite the country’s research efforts.
This new approach mirrored developments at Alzheimer’s Research UK. While our traditional research grants – awarded to fund the best ideas in labs across the UK – continue today, thanks to your support we’ve also been able to launch some pioneering new initiatives in recent years. From our Drug Discovery Alliance to our Stem Cell Research Centre, these world-class research programmes are helping us to fill key gaps in our understanding of dementia and fast-track the development of new treatments. And last year, we were proud to become a founding charity partner of the UK Dementia Research Institute, committing to invest £50m into the project.
Meanwhile research efforts were not confined to the UK. Recognising that dementia is a global challenge, in 2013 Mr Cameron harnessed the UK’s presidency of the G8, bringing together world leaders to develop a plan for fighting the condition. Committing to a goal of finding a disease-modifying treatment by 2025, this summit led to the creation of the World Dementia Council to steer global research efforts to achieve this ambition.
A new research landscape
Five years on from that announcement in the spring of 2012, we can see a very different landscape for dementia research. Earlier this month we showed the number of dementia researchers has dramatically increased:
Globally, the number of clinical trials has also increased:
And in the UK thousands more people are taking part in dementia studies, thanks to initiatives like Join Dementia Research.
All this is bringing new advances in research. In the past five years:
- We’ve seen risk genes for Alzheimer’s and other dementias identified, revealing crucial clues about how these diseases develop and how we might stop them.
- There have been advances in brain scanning, with state-of-the-art techniques now able to visualise toxic proteins that build in the brain during Alzheimer’s.
- Scientists have shed more light on the risk factors for dementia – with corresponding political action to help improve awareness of the measures we can take to reduce our risk.
- And we’ve seen promising initial results from some early clinical trials of Alzheimer’s drugs, with larger studies now under way to discover whether these treatments may improve the lives of people with the disease.
The challenge is not over
It was fitting that earlier this year, David Cameron chose to continue the fight against dementia by becoming Alzheimer’s Research UK’s new President – because the challenge is by no means over. We do not yet have treatments to stop or slow diseases like Alzheimer’s, and today the number of people living with dementia in the UK has grown to over 850,000, each statistic carrying a personal tale of lives turned upside-down. But if the past five years have shown us anything, it’s that government action can and does make a difference. We’ve seen the start of a movement to defeat this devastating condition. With enough momentum, the next five years can power us even further towards that goal. Will you join us?
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