Big pharma signs up to $100m Dementia Discovery Fund

Five big pharma companies have signed up to a groundbreaking new UK government-led Dementia Discovery Fund, which will pool resources and help accelerate development of new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

The $100 million fund will be structured as a venture capital fund, but will be the first to focus solely on dementia research. The ultimate aim is to develop pioneering new drugs to treat the condition – an area where there has been almost no progress in recent years, despite pharma companies spending many millions on research.

Dementia is already a huge problem – 47.5 million people are currently living with the disease worldwide – and the number of cases is expected to double every 20 years as the population ages.

There is currently no drug which can halt or reverse the disease in the long term, and pharma industry research in the field has seen failure after failure in late-stage studies over the last 10-15 years.

The UK has taken the lead in organising new international initiatives to bring governments, academic researchers and the pharma industry together to pool resources to accelerate drug discovery and development.

The fund was first announced last autumn, but now five companies – Biogen, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Johnson & Johnson, Lilly and Pfizer have all committed in principle to investing in the project, alongside Alzheimer’s Research UK and the UK government.

The government has been working with J P Morgan to structure the Dementia Discovery Fund as an innovative method for financing dementia research.

The Fund will seek the most promising early-stage research to invest in across the global research community. A scientific advisory board of representatives from each of the partners will provide expert scientific input during the selection of research programmes, and provide advice during pre-clinical and early clinical development.

Partners will then be sought to progress the promising assets through clinical development, with any proceeds from licensing or sale of such programmes to be returned to the Fund and its investors.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is to officially announce the fund at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) First Ministerial Conference on Global Action Against Dementia later today.

The money committed by investors today includes the £15 million that the UK government announced for the fund in autumn 2014.

Speaking at the WHO conference, Jeremy Hunt is expected to say: “The new fund is a unique collaboration, bringing together the combined expertise of government, financial, industry and charity partners.

“It marks a global consensus that research needs greater priority and that new sources of finance are needed to translate the best science into effective treatments.”

Dr Matthew Norton, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “Alzheimer’s Research UK is delighted to be part of this unique and innovative initiative, a world first for dementia research. The Discovery Fund will bring much needed new money into dementia research, but importantly also represents a new way of doing things. It will ensure some of the best minds in commercial drug discovery focus their efforts on dementia, widening the breadth of focus in the area and increasing our chances of success.”

Patrick Vallance, president of pharmaceutical R&D at GSK, said: “This Fund is a really smart way of bringing together great minds and communally increasing our understanding of dementia. It’s also a good way of sharing the financial risk associated with conducting drug discovery research in this field.”

GSK is to contribute $25 million to the fund, and says it will be able to bring its neurosciences expertise to the venture. Alzheimer’s drug development remains highly risky, not least because the mechanism of the disease is still not fully understood.

Big pharma has grown wary of investing in the area, and is increasingly looking for new risk-sharing approaches. GSK recently licensed-out one of its own molecules, SB742457, to small biotech firm Roivant Neurosciences.

Other pharma companies and other interested investors will be invited to participate at a later stage.

A professional investment manager to oversee the fund’s financial governance and investment decisions is expected to be appointed in the near future.

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