“Fuelling the Moonshot”: MPs call for ten years of UK DRI funding

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The UK DRI welcomes the new Parliamentary report, “Fuelling the Moonshot”, which calls on the Government to confirm funding for the UK DRI for the next ten years. Produced by a cross-party group of MPs and Peers in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Society, today's (8 Sept) report is the culmination of a detailed inquiry run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Dementia, which received evidence from experts and organisations in the field of dementia research. The report makes a case for how the Government’s promised ‘Dementia Moonshot’ funding should be spent to best support research into dementia and neurodegeneration.

The APPG on Dementia is composed of Members of the Commons and Lords who work in partnership with UK DRI Founding Funder Alzheimer’s Society to conduct inquiries and influence policymaking on dementia. For this report, the APPG received evidence from a range of people and organisations involved in dementia research or affected by dementia, including the UK DRI. In particular, the group heard oral evidence from Prof Bart De Strooper, UK DRI Director, and Prof David Sharp, Centre Director at the UK DRI Care Research & Technology Centre based at Imperial College London and the University of Surrey. They also received written evidence from Prof Joanna Wardlaw, UK DRI Group Leader at the University of Edinburgh.

In their 2019 election manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to double dementia research funding to over £1.6 billion over the next ten years, but have yet deliver on this pledge. The APPG report argues for this to be brought forward urgently, and gives recommendations on how additional funding should be allocated. Important both for the UK DRI specifically, and the wider dementia research community as a whole, these include: guaranteed funding for the UK DRI for the next ten years; establishing a fund to support early careers researchers (ECRs) in dementia research; and funding the development of early diagnostics as well as technology to support people living with dementia and their carers.

Funding for the UK DRI

Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK. To develop effective treatments against the neurodegenerative diseases responsible dementia, significant funding is needed for dementia research. However, the report argues that the current funding from Government needs to be increased. To provide perspective, while cancer research is provided £269 million of government funding each year, dementia research receives just £83 million. Additional funding is therefore required to help bridge the gap.

Importantly, funding discovery science drives the development of treatments and diagnostics. Through greater understanding of the biological mechanisms behind neurodegeneration and dementia, researchers can identify more relevant drug targets. In line with this, the APPG report highlights the importance of continued funding for the UK DRI for the next ten years. Through its discovery science, the UK DRI will advance the current understanding of neurodegeneration and dementia to feed the pipeline to diagnostics and therapeutics. As Prof De Strooper described it:

Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK, but research into the neurodegeneration that causes it is still underfunded compared to other diseases. The additional investment recommended in this report for the UK DRI would be transformative of our work.

The Government has built a world-class institute in the UK DRI. We have the rocket, now we need the Moonshot to propel us towards treatments. Prof Bart De Strooper, UK DRI Director

Support for early career researchers

While there are many ECRs entering dementia research, there are limited funding opportunities available – making these positions highly competitive. Additionally, the pandemic has severely reduced access to the lab for many researchers and, in some cases, has led to funding being prematurely cut. ECRs need our support more than ever.

The APPG report therefore recommends that the Government set up a dementia research fund specifically for ECRs. By increasing the funding available, ECRs from around the world will be attracted to dementia research in the UK. This is particularly important for the UK DRI, which seeks to add new generations of talented scientists to the Institute’s network of expert researchers in the UK.

In response to the report’s recommendation, Prof De Strooper said:

We also welcome the recommendations to support early career researchers, who are vital to dementia research. We are working hard to address issues related to diversity within the biomedical research community. In addition to providing the practical expertise to carry out experiments, a more diverse ECR population will bring fresh enthusiasm and new ideas to the field. This report is a positive sign that their value to the research community is being recognised.”

The importance of diagnostics and care research

Turning discovery science into new technologies is at the heart of research into both new diagnostics and care for people living with dementia. Analysis of the early signs of neurodegeneration helps pinpoint indicators that can identify whether someone is more likely to develop dementia, forming the basis of new diagnostic techniques. Such signs can range from biomarkers in the blood to changes in the brain detected by imaging techniques. Meanwhile, care research is making use of digital markers, such as sleep patterns, to determine if dementia symptoms are progressing. This knowledge guides when interventions should be put in place, including new technologies to help people with dementia stay independent in their home for longer.

However, without funding the initial research to study neurodegeneration and dementia, new technologies for diagnosis and care cannot be created. The APPG recommends that the Government should direct funding towards developing: novel methods for early diagnosis, technology for people living with dementia and their carers, and centres focussing on finding solutions to challenges that impact the lives of people with dementia. This could benefit many members of the dementia research community, including the UK DRI, which has a dedicated Care Research and Technology centre, as well as many researchers involved in identifying novel biomarkers.

Looking to the future

Recently, the Office for Life Sciences released their 'Life Sciences Vision' for the next ten years, detailing key aspirations for healthcare in the UK, including improving the translation of research into neurodegeneration and dementia. The promised ‘Dementia Moonshot’ funding could help make this possible.

The new report from the APPG in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Society presents an opportunity to build upon this momentum and argues for the support needed for neurodegeneration and dementia research to deliver upon its potential.  

For more information, please see the APPG report

“Fuelling the Moonshot: Unleashing the UK’s potential through dementia research.”

Article published: 08 September 2021

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