There are over 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and their care costs around £26 billion a year, according to Whitehall Training’s course on Dementia Awareness.
This makes the news that Pfizer is dropping dementia research particularly worrying. The pharmaceutical giant intends to close its entire neuroscience discovery unit in the US, with funds being diverted into presumably less risky projects. It is unclear what will happen to its existing candidate drugs.
Global biotech firm Shire, recently announced plans to restructure, creating a new business unit specialising in neuroscience. On the one hand this could be seen as positive, but on the other, it could look like damage limitation.
The press has enthusiastically snapped up any good news in the field but none of the high profile candidate dementia drugs have managed to live up to the hype.
Only yesterday, I came across news of a study suggesting that having a positive attitude to aging could halve the risk of developing dementia.
Keep calm and carry on...
Like many journalists, I’m at the age where I have to face the fact that there is unlikely to be a cure by the time I reach the peak age of dementia sufferers – and it’s a scary prospect. Perhaps a lot of column inches are being tinged by increasing desperate wishful thinking.
Why is it so hard to find a cure?
As ever, it boils down to a mixture of medical science and economics. On the plus side, the market for an effective dementia treatment is massive and growing at an unprecedented rate. On the down side, neuroscience research is notoriously expensive and the lack of success to date makes the prospect of failure particularly real.
What of the future?
The charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK, believes that it may be time to consider ways to reduce risk in collaborative deals like the recent Dementia Consortium that links pharma companies and academic partners. Another collaboration between Takeda and US-based Denali Therapeutics plans to develop three drugs for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.