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Charities pledge to jump start drug development for brain diseases

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Consortium seeks to uncover promising drugs in pharma libraries and conduct clinical trials

Drugs for brain diseases such as dementia, motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s which have stalled in development could be revived thanks to up to £30 million in funding and resources from a global coalition of charities and funders. The Neurodegeneration Medicines Acceleration Programme (Neuro-MAP), led by medical research charity MRC Technology and launched today (Tuesday 18 November 2014), will see charities and funding bodies identify promising drug projects no longer in development and help scientists to take them forward to the next stage.

The vision of this innovative new venture is to drive forward research on potentially beneficial brain disease drugs that are not currently being developed and are sitting in pharmaceutical company libraries – before returning them to the companies to test in large-scale clinical trials. The consortium represents more than 50 million people living with neurodegenerative conditions worldwide. The number of people with these conditions is set to rise substantially in the next few decades.

Neuro-MAP will ask pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to propose projects to the consortium. The Neuro-MAP partner organisations will decide which projects to take on by evaluating patient needs, scientific excellence and commercial potential. Neuro-MAP projects will also support the repurposing of existing drugs and compounds for other conditions, such as testing hypertension drugs for vascular dementia.

Research into neurodegenerative conditions is complex, expensive and has a high failure rate, resulting in many pharmaceutical companies turning their attention to more favourable research areas. But with no treatments to stop the progression of these brain disorders, there is an urgent need to revive research into the conditions.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt said:

‘New treatments for brain diseases are vital if we are to improve the lives of the millions of people around the world who live with them. ‘Tackling conditions like dementia is one of our central priorities, which is why we are doing more than ever to identify new treatments and, ultimately, find a cure. ‘This innovative project will make a vital contribution to our shared endeavour by accelerating drug development and research.’

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said:

‘People are developing dementia on a scale of one case every three minutes in the UK and not only is there no cure, the treatments we have only work for some people and we haven’t had a new drug for a decade. Too many potential drugs are languishing in laboratories because the companies who own them have moved in other directions. By rescuing these projects and moving them forward we aim to bring these drugs closer to the people who desperately need them.

‘By next year 850,000 people in the UK will have dementia. We need a massive step change in research funding in order to develop new treatments, but it’s not just about throwing money at the problem. Innovative projects like this will help demolish the barriers to dementia research and that’s why we’re delighted to be working as part of it.’

Mike Johnson, Director of Corporate Partnerships at MRC Technology said:

‘We’re pleased to be able to use our unique position at the centre of charities, funders, academia and industry to bring together the right combination of funding, skills and capabilities to really impact quality of life for patients living with these debilitating and destructive diseases. This is an amazing opportunity to accelerate the next generation of neurodegenerative drugs towards the patient.’

World Dementia Envoy Dennis Gillings said:

‘This is a hugely encouraging step forward in dementia research. Instead of potential treatments sitting idle on shelves, they have the possibility of being re-tested with new life breathed into them. Hopefully this kind of initiative brings the search for a cure one step closer.’

MRC Technology will augment the investment by charities on a project-by-project basis, seeking co-investment from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, social investors, venture philanthropists, and other investors in the healthcare sectors.

Partners in the Neurodegeneration Medicines Acceleration Programme are: Alzheimer’s Association (US), Alzheimer Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society (UK), ALS Association, Michael J Fox Foundation, MND Association, MRC Technology, Northern Health Science Alliance, and Parkinson’s UK.

The website for the program is www.medicinesaccelerationprogram.org



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