As a new year begins, CEO Angus Grant reflects on recent progress in the field and considers the new research opportunities that could provide potential new treatments for dementia:
The search for new treatments to change the course of dementia continued apace in 2019. Potential unexplored avenues to pursue were identified while at the same time the debate about previously considered routes and possible pathways raged on.
Almost four years on from our first investment, the Dementia Discovery Fund has continued to identify the potentially cutting-edge therapeutic approaches that could change the course of dementia. That first investment, back in January 2016, in antibody discovery company Alector, is one to quickly reflect on. In February of this year that company started trading publicly in the US and has spent the year advancing its pipeline in Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia – significant progress for the company and a signal of the growing maturity of this fund’s investments.
A goal of the DDF has always been to bring greater diversity to dementia research, exploring areas beyond the prevailing beta-amyloid hypothesis. This year the new additions to our portfolio and our increased investments, such as MedaRed, Tiaki Therapeutics and Ribometrix, show the changing landscape of dementia research as companies explore vascular damage, neuroinflammation and the potential of RNA-targeting drug discovery platforms.
The fund launched in 2015 with a significant investment from the UK government – a government that pledged in November to put an extra £83m a year into dementia research over the next decade. And so, I am particularly pleased that DDF investments enabled the creation of two UK-based companies in 2019 – LoQus23, a company focussing on targeting DNA damage repair pathways and AstronauTx, which builds on work from the Alzheimer’s Research UK University College London Drug Discovery Institute (DDI) and will develop new medicines designed to improve the performance of astrocytes, crucial support cells in the brain.
While the DDF exists to unlock areas of dementia research that would otherwise be underdeveloped or unacknowledged, I cannot reflect on 2019 without mentioning an area of dementia research that fits neither of these descriptions. The announcement by Biogen about plans to file for approval of aducanumab – its beta-amyloid targeting antibody – after a reanalysis of clinical data, has captured the attention of drug developers and investors, as well as patients and caregivers. Biogen has provided tantalising evidence of beta-amyloid’s role as an important component and precursor in dementia pathologies. Reanalysis of data is often controversial and the complex clinical data that led to a halt in clinical development, followed by a revival of the programme, may point to a biological complexity yet to be understood. However, we should only be encouraged by the work. The wider research field will continue to learn a great deal about this disease from such research and the Dementia Discovery Fund will continue to invest in companies putting forward complementary hypotheses that could offer the next generation of dementia treatments.
Time won’t allow me to suitably recognise the many other areas in which this field is making progress, such as our improved understanding of behavioural aspects of disease, the quantum leap in diagnostics and the further segmentation of dementia diseases which will undoubtedly improve our ability to develop effective treatments.
Needless to say, it is truly exciting to see such meaningful progress being made and I would like to thank all colleagues, fund partners, portfolio companies and, of course, the wider research community for their commitment to find the new therapeutic approaches that can make a substantial impact on the lives of patients.