Is cancer research underfunded?
Alzheimer's doctor: "Dementia research is underfunded"
The eight most important industrialized nations (G8) committed themselves in London on December 11, 2013 to do more to find effective dementia drugs. The host, British Prime Minister David Cameron, called on the G8 countries to double their spending on research. Deutsche Welle spoke to British Alzheimer's researcher Simon Ridley about this.
German wave: Overall, the money for dementia research seems to be very tight: Great Britain, for example, would have only doubled its spending annually by 2025 with only around 145 million euros - a piece of cake compared to other research amounts. Are these sums enough to develop new drugs?
Simon Ridley: You can look at these numbers from different perspectives. If we look at spending around the world, the United Kingdom is certainly one of the countries that spends the most on research. But if you put the figures in relation to the general state budget, or to other research expenditures in the natural sciences, then dementia research has certainly suffered somewhat from a lack of funding. Especially when it comes to new treatment methods, this money certainly cannot meet expectations.
But the money can still go a long way in fueling the research efforts of pharmaceutical companies developing new treatments. This is how you can bring together the best of university research and research by pharmaceutical companies. Then together we can come to a point where the industry can then pick up on drug development.
The pharmaceutical companies have withdrawn more and more from dementia research in recent years. Obviously, the medical aspects of brain research are just too complicated. It does not seem to be possible to develop a magic pill that works and at the same time also generates profit over the next few decades. How do you get industry back on board?
The challenges for medical research and development are enormous. It is becoming more and more difficult and expensive to bring a new drug onto the market. Incidentally, this applies to all diseases. Dementia - and Alzheimer's in particular - have always been a particularly difficult area of research. The pharmaceutical companies have invested a lot in research. We found some treatments that actually helped a little. But we could do a lot better.
This research area remains a great challenge and repeatedly leads to disappointments. So one or the other company has probably asked itself whether it is not better to withdraw from it. On the other hand, there are still some companies that are definitely investing in this research. We encourage them to keep going and hope that one success leads to the next.
Our concrete hope: If we succeed in finding an active ingredient against the amyloid beta protein, for example - and a large part of today's Alzheimer's research is aimed at this protein - then this could trigger a new wave of investment by companies, perhaps right now do not do so much research in this field.
Why is dementia research lagging so far behind cancer research?
Systematic cancer research began in the sixties and seventies. But we are catching up with dementia research. However, research into brain diseases is much more difficult to accomplish than research into other diseases: the brain is not so easy to access because many drugs cannot cross the blood-brain barrier at all.
Although we can see more today with modern imaging techniques, diagnosis remains difficult. For example, if I want to test a diabetes drug, I can read out clinical values using a blood test. So I know very quickly whether my medication is working. You don't get that far with Alzheimer's: It takes ten to twenty years before I even recognize the symptoms of the disease. Then the damage is already very great - and it is extremely difficult to repair it.
Dr. Simon Ridley is Head of Research at the UK Research association .
The interview was conducted by Conor Dillon.
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