Leading countries set a
goal of finding a cure or effective treatment for dementia by 2025 on Wednesday
and ministers said the world needed to fight the spread of the memory-robbing
condition just as it fought Aids.
The move by the Group of
Eight (G8) nations matches the date set by the United States last year for
beating Alzheimer's – but the target is ambitious, considering there is no
obvious cure on the horizon.
Global cases of dementia
are expected to treble by 2050, yet scientists are still struggling to
understand its basic biology, and the current medicine cupboard is bare.
"In terms of a cure,
or even a treatment that can modify the disease, we are empty-handed," World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan told ministers,
campaigners, scientists and drug industry executives from the Group of Eight
leading economies at the summit.
Ending that drug drought
will require more investment by governments and the private sector. The G8
ministers pledged to increase spending "significantly" – with Britain
promising to double its expenditure – but officials stopped short of giving an
overall funding figure.
The London meeting
The London meeting – the
first G8 summit on a specific illness since HIV and Aids – was hosted by
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said it was vital to show that
dementia was not a normal part of ageing.
Health Minister Jeremy Hunt
said there were lessons to be learnt from the fight against Aids, where a 2005
G8 summit played a key role in pushing for better and more widely available
"We have turned the
global tide in the battle against Aids. Now we need to do it again. We will
bankrupt our healthcare systems if we don't," he said.
The health ministers also
agreed to appoint a global envoy for dementia innovation, following a template
used for HIV and climate change.
Facts on dementia
Dementia – of which
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form – already affects 44 million people
worldwide and this is set to reach 135 million by 2050, according to new
estimates this month from Alzheimer's Disease International, a non-profit
More than 70 percent of
them will be living in poorer countries with scant access to health care.
Experts say many people
could avoid dementia by adopting healthier diets, exercising more, and giving
up smoking, but that what the world needs urgently is effective drugs.
It is a decade since the
last drug was approved to treat Alzheimer's, and there is still no treatment
that can slow the progression of the disease. Current drugs can do no more than
ease some of the symptoms of the disorder.
Over the past 15 years more
than 100 experimental Alzheimer's drugs have failed in development, according
to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Some companies are still
trying to crack the problem, since the potential prize would be sales running
into many billions of dollars a year.
Merck & Co said on
Tuesday it would begin late-stage trials of a drug designed to block the
buildup of brain plaques that are a central feature of the disease, after
safety problems with other similar drugs.
Eli Lilly is starting a new
trial of an antibody treatment that failed in earlier testing but is now being
tried out in patients with mild disease.
Others in the Alzheimer's
drug race include Roche, Johnson & Johnson and Eisai.
Much of the current
research is focused on the idea that early intervention is likely to be a key
to success, since once dementia has developed enough to show serious symptoms,
it may be too late for medicines to work.
Cameron said Britain aimed
to double its annual spending by 2025 to more than 130 million pounds ($214
million), up from a 2015 target of 66 million pounds, but dementia campaigners
say spending will still be only a fraction of that spent on cancer research.
The global cost of dementia
is already more than $600 billion, or around 1 percent of global gross domestic
product – and that figure will only increase, according to the WHO's Chan.
costly," she told the summit bringing together ministers from the United
States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan. "And
not only is it costly, it is a heartbreaking disease."