On March 17, U.K. Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt announced the $100 million Dementia Discovery Fund, a new venture capital fund dedicated exclusively to dementia research. With contributions from the British government, Alzheimer’s Research U.K., and five major pharmaceutical companies, it will support preclinical research to develop new drug targets. This investment tool is being created at a time when governments around the world are ramping up efforts to support research on dementia, which they increasingly recognize as a social and economic threat (Jul 2014 news story).

After the 2013 G8 Dementia Summit in London, leaders created the World Dementia Council to coordinate such international efforts (Dec 2013 news). The council set out five priorities to develop new therapies by 2025, including increased global financing. “The Dementia Discovery Fund was born out of that,” said Matthew Norton of Alzheimer’s Research U.K., whose recent blog post explains the new fund.

Prime Minister David Cameron's government led the effort, pledging about $22 million in the fall of 2014 to kick-start the fund. Alzheimer’s Research U.K. promised another $5 million, GlaxoSmithKline $25 million, and Johnson & Johnson a further $10 million. Pfizer Inc., Biogen Idec, and Eli Lilly and Company will contribute the rest, while other investors will be able to join later on. The financial services firm J.P. Morgan will help manage the fund. A scientific advisory board with representatives from each investor will help select projects to support and offer advice throughout the investment period.

Grants from the Dementia Discovery Fund will support small startups, perhaps even in academia, that have demonstrated strong proof of concept for a treatment but need capital for preclinical development, said Norton. “There is a clear need in this preclinical development phase in the neuroscience field, where we’ve seen historical disinvestment from pharmaceutical industry,” he told Alzforum. “This fund allows pharmaceutical partners to pool their risk in that early phase, and that’s a nice incentive to bring investment into dementia.” If a project is successful, companies can bid to develop it further. The assets will be sold on the open market, Norton said. Proceeds will give contributors a return on their initial investment.

The fund is distinct from other initiatives funded by Alzheimer’s Research U.K., including the recently announced Drug Discovery Alliance (Feb 2015 news) and Dementia Consortium (Feb 2014 news). Even so, it has similar goals, wrote Eric Karran of Alzheimer’s Research U.K. to Alzforum. “All these initiatives strive to find more targets to work on, leverage resources to promote dementia research, and speed up the drug discovery process.”

“The Dementia Discovery Fund presents a wonderful opportunity for the field and a step forward toward solving dementia on a global scale,” Giampietro Schiavo of University College London wrote to Alzforum. “We need more coordinated efforts at all levels of the discovery pipeline, from the biology of the disease, to the identification of novel targets, to drug discovery and experimental medicine.”

“It’s a genuinely exciting initiative,” agreed Simon Lovestone, University of Oxford, U.K. “That this is shared funding makes me wonder whether it will open up the possibility for more precompetitive, collaborative drug development.”

Hunt made the announcement at the first World Health Organization (WHO) Ministerial Conference on Global Action Against Dementia, held in Geneva March 16-17. World ministers, research experts, clinicians, and representatives from non-governmental organizations met to discuss strategies to handle the global threat posed by dementia. They addressed innovation in research and progress since the 2013 G8 meeting, as well as how to reduce dementia risk, improve care, raise awareness, and strengthen political commitment around the world. An archived Webcast of that meeting is available here.—Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib


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News Citations

  1. Global Endeavor Underway to Treat Dementia
  2. G8 Vows to Improve Care, Cure Dementia
  3. New Drug Discovery Institutes to Tackle AD in the U.K.
  4. New Funds to Hustle Drug Targets From Bench to Clinic

External Citations

  1. blog post
  2. pledging 
  3. here

Further Reading