New approach to accelerate dementias research
19 Jun 2014
The Medical Research Council (MRC) has today launched the UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP), a £16 million public-private partnership set up to speed up research into dementias. The collaboration aims to enable earlier detection, improved treatment and, ultimately, prevention of the disease, by looking not just at what is going wrong in the brain, but at the brain in the context of the whole body.
With the UKDP, the MRC is bringing together industry expertise and investigator teams from eight UK universities and teaming them with what will be the world’s largest group of participants in dementias research (more than two million people). The Platform’s combination of skills and resources, and its focus on looking at the whole body in order to understand neurodegenerative disease, aims to unearth completely new approaches for intervention, including new drug treatments.
The Platform will investigate the causes of dementia across a range of different neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease.
Key to this ‘whole body’ approach will be the study of data from two million volunteers aged 50 and over who have taken part in existing population studies such as UK Biobank and the Million Women Study. Participants in these studies have generously provided a wealth of medical and lifestyle data which UKDP researchers will link to emerging biological data from genetic studies, brain imaging and cognitive testing. Studying the data will give researchers a better understanding of who is at risk of getting dementia, possible triggers that lead to disease, and what might speed up or slow down its progression.
The resource will also allow scientists to identify better biological and cognitive measures (biomarkers) of the key changes associated with dementia. This will enable them to develop new and more accurate clinical trials and find ways to limit and improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected.
Dr John Gallacher, from Cardiff University and director of the UKDP, said “We now know that neurodegeneration can be linked to changes taking place in parts of the body seemingly unrelated to the brain and many years before dementia is diagnosed. For example, inflammation or infection in a completely different organ may be related to the development of dementia or to accelerating the onset in people with the disease. So it’s imperative that we look at the different stages of disease development: people who are yet to develop dementia; those who are known to be at risk of developing it, and those who are already in the early stages of the disease.
“By looking at the links between development of the disease and other factors – such as diet or illness – we hope to unearth targets for new drugs or new uses for existing drugs.”
The project has attracted industry partners from both within the UK and abroad: Araclon; MedImmune, the global biologics research & development arm of AstraZeneca; GSK; IXICO; Janssen Research & Development in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation; and SomaLogic. The academic partners are: Cardiff University (academic lead), University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Newcastle University, University of Oxford, Swansea University and University College London.
Science Minister David Willetts said: “This new £16 million UK Dementia Platform will create the world’s largest ever study group for research into dementia, ensuring that data is freely available to support the work of international scientists in this very important area.
“The collaborative approach demonstrated by the Medical Research Council and its business partners through this platform is critical in helping us to achieve our target of doubling dementia research funding and making the UK the best place in the world to do life sciences.”
Notes to editors:
The UKDP was announced at the 2014 Global Dementia Legacy Event at the Guildhall, London, by Secretary of State for Health, the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt. The event was organised to as a follow-up to the 2013 G8 Dementia Summit.
The six UK and international companies (3 pharma, 3 SME) have signed a consortium agreement which will allow shared access to the research resources and the rich and unique data in the UKDP, and provide a basis for instigating joint studies. These companies have chosen to invest in the partnership in spite of many competing priorities and other opportunities in dementias research worldwide, eg. SomaLogic, which is based in Colorado, has decided to establish a research base in the UK as a result of the Platform. A number of other companies have held in depth discussions with MRC about involvement in the UKDP, and have retained an interest in joining the partnership at a later point.
The NIHR-funded Translational Research Collaboration in Dementia, spanning six NHS Trusts, is also a stakeholder in the UKDP. NIHR has recently instigated a feasibility study to identify biomarkers in Alzheimer’s Disease, in partnership with MRC, which if successful will lead to a full joint MRC-NIHR funded project that will be incorporated into the UKDP in 2015.
For more information:
MRC Press Office: Carmel Turner 020 7395 2273 or 020 7395 2345