New HQ to be flagship for UK’s dementia research

Andrew McConaghie

The UK is investing more in its ‘Grand Challenge’ to tackle dementia, with a £40 million investment in a dedicated headquarters for early-stage research.

A landmark £40 million has been awarded to the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI), via the Medical Research Council (MRC), for a new hub building at University College London (UCL).

This £40  million will be matched by significant capital investment by UCL, and brings the total committed investment so far for UK DRI from the MRC and its two charity partners to £29 million.

This investment in more early-stage research is still necessary, as the exact mechanisms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia remain poorly understood.

Recent years have seen a string of failures in pharma’s late-stage trials in Alzheimer’s, with most drug candidates targeting beta amyloid – a protein build up seen in the brains of patients with the disease.

Researchers agree that alternative approaches will be needed to have an impact on the disease, which is one of the world’s biggest health and social care challenges as the global population ages.

Globally someone develops dementia every three minutes and today there are around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. By 2021, that number is set to exceed a million and to pass two million by 2050.

The UK DRI is a multi-million-pound investment into dementia research led by the MRC alongside founding charity partners Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The Institute will be a lynchpin in the UK’s research efforts to prevent, diagnose, treat, and care for those living with dementia.

The investment will be used as part of a large UCL-led redevelopment at the Eastman Dental Hospital on Grays Inn Road, London, which will have important connections to a hospital unit. Once completed, the UK DRI hub at UCL will host up to 350 scientists as the centrepiece of the larger institute that incorporates research centres at five other universities, with the total number of UK DRI researchers growing to 700 across its six sites over the next six years.

The new site will focus on creating a shared, open environment. To support this collaboration, the UK DRI hub will be connected to the UCL Institute of Neurology (IoN) in this building, together housing over 500 neuroscience researchers. The new site will also incorporate space for public engagement – allowing UK DRI to connect to communities and share its progress in finding better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent dementia. The MRC says this ‘landmark’ future home for the UK DRI hub and UCL IoN hopes to open its doors in 2024.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “By 2020 we want to be the best country in the world for dementia care and we also want to be best place in the world to undertake research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. Today’s funding announcement of £40 million for the Dementia Research Institute is a vitally important step on that journey.”

Adrian Ivinson, Chief Operating Officer, UK DRI, said: “We are extremely grateful for this new funding from the MRC. It is a tremendous vote of confidence in the UK DRI and the vibrant neuroscience research community here at UCL.

“The new building will be an internationally recognised symbol of our commitment to conquering dementia. It will enable us to attract the best researchers and to provide them with an optimum environment for getting the job done. Importantly, the new space will also connect our researchers to the public and people affected by dementia.”

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