BMJ 2013;347:f7529 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f7529 (Published 16 December 2013)
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NEWS Doubling of spending on dementia research by 2025 is inadequate, say experts Nigel Hawkes London
The world’s leading developed nations have promised to redouble efforts to tackle dementia, after a meeting in London declared it to be a major global disease burden, already affecting 35 million people.
The G8 countries—the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia—promised to increase funding for dementia research, with the ambition of identifying by 2025 a cure or treatment capable of slowing the disease. The UK, which currently chairs the G8, called the meeting and heralded the outcome as “the day that the global fightback against dementia began.” Jeremy Hunt, England’s health secretary, drew a parallel with the effort to tackle HIV and AIDS, which had led to effective treatments.
Seeking to lead by example, the prime minister, David Cameron, promised to double UK research spending on dementia, proclaimed the success of the government’s biotechnology initiative, and drew attention to the first use in the UK of a new test for Alzheimer’s disease. The government’s promises were generally welcomed, the Alzheimer’s Society saying that dementia had come out of the shadows to centre stage, and Alzheimer’s Research UK saying that the G8 resolution exemplified the new kind of partnership needed to produce breakthrough treatments. But some commentators raised doubts. Eve Richardson, chief executive of the National Council for Palliative Care, said, “In some ways this is nowhere near ambitious enough, given that one in three of us over 65 will have dementia and may live for many years with it.” And Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said that any promise of increased funding was welcome but that she was not sure it was enough.
Although the headlines focused on the promise to double spending, the small print made it clear that this would not be achieved until 2025. Number 10 Downing Street quoted a figure of £52m (€62m; $85m) for public spending on dementia research
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in 2012-13, which is expected to rise to £66m by 2015. By 2025 the figure will reach £122m if the prime minister’s promise is met.
This is likely to represent faster growth than for publicly funded research as a whole and faster than has been achieved in the recent past. But it is not particularly generous when compared with overall expansion in research spending by universities and by the research councils. Research spending in universities almost doubled between 1995 and 2011, and in that same period research council spending also more than doubled,1 in spite of the deepest recession since the 1930s. Cameron also enlisted the aid of the private sector, saying that the UK had attracted £2bn in private sector investment in life sciences since the launch of the government’s bioscience strategy two years ago. To support the claim Number 10 said that GlaxoSmithKline had announced an investment of £200m in two new manufacturing plants, on top of a £500m investment announced in March 2012 that included a new manufacturing plant in Ulverston, Cumbria. However, neither of these investments had any direct connection with dementia research. The only specific new dementia related investment announced was a more modest £3m consortium largely funded by the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK (£2m) and the drug companies Eisai and Lilley (£500 000 each), which aims to fund translational research to speed new ideas from laboratories into drugs. “We must feed more promising drug targets into the development pipeline, and the Dementia Consortium will do just that,” said Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. 1
National Audit Office. Research and development spending for science and technology in the UK. Jun 2013. www.nao.org.uk.