Dementia is a modifiable brain disorder, not - as many people might think – an inevitable consequence of old age. We now understand that there are many forms of dementia with different biological causes, genetic influences and potential opportunities for treatment. In my talk, I will discuss why it has been so very difficult to create new medicines. None have been launched in the last 30 years, despite billions spent on research and development.
However, I am optimistic that new medicines are on their way. Drug discovery efforts have focused on two proteins that form the hallmark sticky plaques and tangles visible in the post-mortem brains first observed by Alois Alzheimers in1906. Some scientists believe that beta-amyloid protein (BAP) is the culprit while others blame Tau. Nicknamed the ‘BAPtists’ and ‘Tauists’, each camp has now developed drugs to reduce protein levels in the brain. We will soon know how well they work from the late stage clinical trials underway.
The opportunities for new medicine do not end there. The UK Government, charities and pharmaceutical companies have put together a £250M fund -the Dementia Discovery Fund - to stimulate the creation of new therapeutics beyond those first two approaches. Myriad new ideas are being explored from activating the brain’s natural immune system, to controlling astrocytes - the brains abundant support cells - to increasing the clearance of toxic proteins from the brain while we sleep.
With more than 100 biotech companies working on new medicines and over 200 clinical trials underway across the world there are reasons to be hopeful.
Dr Ruth McKernan CBE
Ruth has spanned the academic, business and government worlds with aplomb. As a neuroscientist she has over 120 publications and 15 patents in the areas of ion channels and regenerative medicine. She spent 25 years in the Pharmaceutical Industry ultimately heading up research sites on both sides of the Atlantic. From head of the Pfizer site in Sandwich and senior Vice President she moved to become CEO of InnovateUK, supporting the growth of SMEs in the UK and helping to develop the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
Ruth is now a Venture Partner with SV Health Investors and focuses particularly on companies that create new medicines for dementia including AstronauTx, a company she co-founded and now chairs.
Ruth is a trustee of Alzheimer’s Research UK and is Chair of the BioIndustry Association.
In her spare time Ruth is a gardener and writer. Her first book for non-scientists, “Billy’s Halo,” was shortlisted for the Mind book of the year.
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