On December 11, leaders of the G8 countries met in London for the first-ever summit dedicated to dementia. Much as they did for AIDS nearly a decade ago, they made the disease a global priority. Having set the year 2025 as the official international goal for having a better treatment, the leaders pledged more money for research, discussed strategies to study the disease and care for patients, and laid out a blueprint for a continuing global approach. Jeremy Hunt, the U.K. Secretary of State for Health, announced that a new Global Innovation Envoy would be appointed to coordinate international efforts to attract new sources of finance for the support of dementia innovation worldwide (for a full list of summit outcomes, see the final G8 Summit Declaration).

"This disease steals lives, wrecks families, and breaks hearts," said U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who used his country's 2013 G8 presidency to draw attention to the looming global crisis of dementia (see May 2013 news story). The summit was broadcast live online.  "I want people to remember December 11, 2013, as the day the global fight back really started." 

The summit came less than a week after Alzheimer's Disease International published an update on global AD projections. It indicates that, by 2050, prevalence will rise higher than originally predicted in 2009, owing to new data from China and sub-Saharan Africa. These two regions had lacked clear data previously; new numbers suggest dementia rates there are similar to other countries, raising the estimated global prevalence to 76 million by 2030, and 135 million by 2050.

With that knowledge, health officials, researchers, pharmaceutical representatives, and other experts from the G8 countries gathered at Lancaster House in London's West End to discuss how to tackle this challenge. Organizers grounded the conference in the emotional plight of patients, highlighting the human aspect of dementia. Short films of people who had been diagnosed, along with their caregivers, were interspersed with talks. Former obstetrician and gynecologist Peter Dunlop, who has a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's, opened the event with a short speech. "We may not find a cure in time for myself and my family, but a huge number of people are looking at us today and hoping to have future research to improve the outcome," he concluded. "I'm sure you won't let us down." The audience gave him a standing ovation.

That energy animated the rest of the day. Chief among the subsequent discussion points was how best to collaborate on global research that clarifies disease mechanisms and speeds up drug development. Many individual initiatives are underway in different countries, but their leaders are finding it challenging to effectively cooperate and share resources and information. Officials from the European Innovative Medicines Initiative announced a call for proposals to develop a platform for adaptive trials and a registry of trial-ready participants (see Dec 2013 news story). Attendees requested more open access to international, publicly funded data to maximize research opportunities. At the same time, they encouraged governments to help re-incentivize pharmaceutical companies to develop dementia drugs by lowering their financial risk and raising their chances of success. Several experts emphasized the need for further studies on early prevention. While multiple projects are in the works (see, e.g., Sep 2012 news story), more are needed to determine which modifiable factors, such as cardiovascular disease and exercise, could help stem the tide of people who will develop dementia in the future, said Miia Kivipelto, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm.

Care was also high on the agenda.  Representatives from several countries, particularly Japan and the United Kingdom, talked about efforts to create dementia-friendly communities and reduce the stigma around this disease. Germany is implementing programs to help patients live at home longer; these could act as models for other countries, many speakers agreed. Others raised the problem of properly identifying the disease, which goes undiagnosed around 50 percent of the time. "We want [at least] two-thirds of people with dementia to get a formal diagnosis, so that they get the right support from our health care system," said Norman Lamb, U.K. Minister of State for Care and Support.

In addition to patients, caregivers repeatedly came up in discussions. Raj Long, GE Healthcare, suggested that carers could provide valuable data, both on patient outcomes and effective strategies for care. Their collective experiences could be compiled into a set of guidelines, a handbook for people who look after patients, she proposed.

While the Global Innovation Envoy will help coordinate these efforts, individual countries should take their own initiatives. "We need a concrete, action-oriented method so we can hold ourselves accountable," said George Vradenburg, USAgainstAlzheimer's. He suggested that to better measure progress, each country set goals and milestones, such as aiming to spend 1 percent of the cost of dementia care on research, and defining the number of patients to be enrolled in clinical trials. Many countries have yet to develop a dementia plan.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, encouraged funders to enter study information into the International Alzheimer's Disease Research Portfolio (see Oct 2013 news story) so that countries can better coordinate how they spend their budgets.

Some audience members expressed concern that the G8's enthusiasm might peter out. To allay those worries, Hunt announced that three follow-up meetings will take place in 2014. A U.K.-led meeting will focus on social impact investment, Japan will host a session about new care and prevention models, and Canada and France will host a conference about partnerships between academia and industry. In early 2015, G8 members will meet again in the United States with global experts to review progress. In the meantime, Cameron emphasized that dementia should make its way up the agenda at other international gatherings, such as that of the G20 and the U.N. General Assembly. "These meetings will help maintain the momentum we've started today," Lamb said.

Researchers at the conference seemed enthusiastic after the meeting. "We have to congratulate the U.K. for taking the lead, starting with David Cameron, who made dementia a pillar in his efforts," Michael Krams, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, told Alzforum. "To run a G8 summit around this topic is really quite something." The summit has heightened global awareness about the problem and mobilized players to interact at a higher level, he said.

Kristine Yaffe, University of California, San Francisco, agreed. "There is now a clear commitment to dementia, both in terms of research and care, from the highest political level," she said.—Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib


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News Citations

  1. G8 to Set Sights on Dementia
  2. Europe Asks If Reforming Health Habits Can Prevent Dementia
  3. A Bird’s-Eye View of Alzheimer's Research

Other Citations

  1. Dec 2013 news story

External Citations

  1. G8 Summit Declaration
  2. Alzheimer's Disease International
  3. update
  4. predicted

Further Reading