POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

New Drugs for Dementia

Published Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A POSTnote outlining the challenges in developing new drugs to treat dementia, and an overview of UK and international research activities to accelerate progress.

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Dementia Infographic - Public Health England

Dementia is a syndrome characterised by progressive damage to nerve cells in the brain causing loss of cognitive function. Symptoms worsen over time and 24-hour care is needed in the latter stages.

At least 800,000 people in the UK have dementia and it costs £26.3bn per year in health and social care costs (fig 1), more than cancer and heart disease combined. The number of people with dementia and associated costs are predicted to more than double by 2050.

There are no licensed drugs that stop or slow the progression of dementia. UK Dementia policy in recent years has resulted in increased funding to advance treatment and care. Find out more about the Government's approach to tackling dementia on its dementia topic page.

The key points in this POSTnote are:

  • Current drug treatments marginally alleviate symptoms. Psychosocial interventions provide valuable support but access o them is patchy.
  • The development of drugs that address the underlying diseases is challenging due to their complexity.
  • Investing in research and development on dementia drugs is financially risky for the pharmaceutical industry. Drug development is an expensive and slow process and there has been a high failure rate in developing drugs. as they fail to yield positive results during clinical trials.
  • Understanding dementia requires analysis of large amounts of data and therefore a collaborative approach. A robust regulatory and legal framework is needed for privacy, data access and data standardisation so that study outputs can be shared.
  • There are new UK and international initiatives working to accelerate research and support collaboration. There are over ten potential disease-modifying drugs in development that may be available in the next five years. Stakeholders call for continued funding to ensure that the value of current investment is realised.
  • The first disease-modifying drug will be expensive and will not treat all types of dementia. There is growing consensus that treatment needs to start as early as possible, potentially even before symptoms emerge. Clinical implementation will be practically and ethically complex.
  • A healthy and active lifestyle may reduce an individual risk of developing dementia. While further research is needed, improving public health could reduce the number of new cases in the long term.

POSTnotes POST-PN-0535

Authors: Sarah Bunn; Nadia Marks

Topics: Diseases, Health education and preventive medicine, Health staff and professions, Medicine, Research and innovation, Science

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.