17 December 2013

MRC Unveils New UK Dementias Research Platform

The Medical Research Council (MRC) today announced a multi-million pound programme to accelerate progress in dementias research.

Launching in April 2014, the MRC UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP) is a public-private partnership that will unite a wealth of partners and knowledge in a fresh drive to understand neurodegenerative disease onset and progression. The Platform will combine a broad conceptual approach with cutting-edge technologies and significant statistical power, integrating UK strengths in neuroscience, population science and clinical research capability.

The new Platform will provide a unique approach to dementias research, looking not just at the brain but at the whole body. Partnerships between pharmaceutical companies, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and academia will be key to its success in delivering improved treatment and care for people with dementias. GSK is the first industry partner to commit funding to the Platform, which will help drive forward the first stage of development.

The Platform is announced as Health Ministers and business leaders discuss, at the G8 Dementia Summit, how the UK and other G8 nations should rise to the challenge of dementia. The project, awarded first stage funding of £5m, will be led by Professor John Gallacher at the University of Cardiff, with an executive team of investigators from seven institutes: Cambridge, Edinburgh, Kings College London, Imperial College London, Oxford, UCL and Swansea, along with the UCL-based MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing.

Cohort studies, many of them MRC-funded, will play a major role in the Platform, potentially covering up to two million study participants; central to the UKDP is the UK Biobank cohort. By combining appropriate, well-characterised cohorts through the UKDP, a database will be created to form a foundation for future experimental medicine studies. Experimental medicine studies will be aimed at early detection, treatment and ultimately, prevention of dementias. They will offer the opportunity for development of experimental tools and resources. At later stages, there may be opportunities to trial new therapeutic agents.

As part of the Platform’s drive to identify early-stage neurodegenerative disease, the MRC is co-funding a £650,000 feasibility study with the NIHR that will, if successful, lead to a larger programme embedded within the UKDP. This Dementia Translational Research Collaboration study led by Professor Simon Lovestone (Oxford and King’s College London) and in collaboration with Imanova, it will involve intensive biomarker assessment of 24 pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease patients, to determine whether patients would be willing to participate in future studies.

Using the expertise of MRC infrastructures and investment, such as the Farr Institute for e-health informatics, the MRC NIHR Phenome Centre and the UK Brain Banks Network, large amounts of data will be generated through the UKDP and comprehensively analysed. All UKDP data will ultimately be accessible to the wider research community.

Hugh Perry, Professor of experimental neuropathology at the University of Southampton and Chair of the MRC Neuroscience and Mental Health Board, says:

“The Platform offers a new way of looking at neurodegenerative disease and potentially new ways to intervene. As we age, our bodies develop physiological problems – or comorbidities – associated with changes in our cognition. By taking a more holistic view, this might give insights into the drivers of disease progression.”

Dr John Gallacher, a cognitive scientist and epidemiologist at Cardiff University School of Medicine who will lead the Platform, emphasised the power of partnership:

“The pharmaceutical industry brings new ideas and a fresh approach to problem-solving, productivity and translation. As academics we can bring added creativity, a sense of lateral thinking and precision. Ultimately, great ideas need to be turned into patient benefits.”

Paul Wren, Director of Neurodegeneration, GSK Research and Development, says:

“Partnership offers a real opportunity to collectively increase our understanding of the causes and progressive nature of dementia, enabling well characterised cohorts to become available for experimental medicine studies. This will facilitate drug development of novel therapeutics that can ultimately slow, halt or even prevent dementia.”

Further information

Read more about the UKDP