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As Part of Broad Effort Aimed at Dementia, UK Launches $27M Research Project

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Medical Research Council on Thursday announced a £16 million ($27 million) research project into dementia that includes the development of new biomarkers for identifying those at risk for developing the condition and patients who may be candidates for new drug trials.

Dubbed the UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP), the project will delve into data from 2 million volunteers to find links between medical histories, lifestyle choices, and emerging biological data from genetic studies, brain imaging, and cognitive testing. The project is part of a broader effort announced by Prime Minister David Cameron to ramp up research into dementia that includes a new £100 million research campaign.

The UKDP project was launched by the Medical Research Council and involves biopharma as well as universities. The biopharm partners are MedImmune; GlaxoSmithKline; Aracion; Ixico; Janssen R&D in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation; and SomaLogic, which is operating in the UK for the first time as a result of its participation in the UKDP, the UK Department of Health said.

The academic partners are Cardiff University, which is the academic lead; University of Cambridge; University of Edinburgh; Imperial College London; Newcastle University; University of Oxford; Swansea University; and University College London.

MRC is providing £12 million in funding to the UKDP, with the balance being provided by the participating industry partners. Data from the project will be available initially to the consortium members but will eventually be opened up to the global research community.

UKDP has three main goals, including the identification of better cognitive measures and biomarkers to better understand who may be at risk of developing dementia and why its progression varies from individual to individual. Improved biomarkers will also be developed to select participants in new clinical trials. Lastly, the consortium seeks to discover how existing drugs that were developed for other conditions may work to slow down the progression of dementia.

According to Cardiff University, the project will study the brain within the context of the entire body to elucidate the development and progression of dementia.

"We now know that neurodegeneration can be linked to changes taking place in parts of the body seemingly unrelated to the brain and many years before dementia is diagnosed," John Gallacher, a researcher at Cardiff University's School of Medicine and Director of the UKDP, said in a statement. He noted inflammation and infection in parts of the body aside from the brain may result in the development and acceleration of dementia.

"By looking at the links between development of the disease and other factors, such as diet or illness, we hope to unearth targets for new drugs or new uses for existing drugs," Gallacher said.

Imperial College London's Craig Ritchie, a member of the department of medicine and the UKDP steering committee called the project a "game changer in dementia research." UKDP will allow researchers to "move seamlessly between different levels of data, which simply could not happen if we worked in our own separate research groups and areas.

"By involving major players in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, the platform will accelerate discovery of new treatments and interventions and allow the UK to take a leading role in the design and delivery of programs to stop the progression of dementia," he said.

Worldwide, about 44.4 million people have dementia. Citing statistics from the World Health Organization, the UK Department of Health said that by 2030 nearly 66 million people will have the condition.

Along with the UKDP project, the Alzheimer's Research UK campaign has pledged £100 million in investments for the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Pledges include the launch of the Alzheimer's Research UK Stem Cell Research Centre, a £2 million collaboration between researchers at the Gordon Institute at the University of Cambridge and University College London to study the causes of Alzheimer's and screen potential new treatments.

Also a network of Drug Discovery Institutes is being established with £30 million to translate breakthroughs to the clinic, and a Global Clinical Development Fund has been created to support phase 1 and II clinical trials to accelerate new treatments into the testing phase with humans.

Cameron has also announced a "comprehensive examination" to find ways of accelerating and sustaining innovation in dementia research in the UK, including efforts to get medicines to patients more quickly, extending patents, and creating research collaborations. A report on the examination will be released in the fall.