Drug companies giving up on search for dementia cure

Drug companies are retreating from the search for a dementia cure after “repeated and costly failures” to develop a breakthrough drug, a major report has warned.

Scientific and financial challenges have meant that, between 1998 and 2012, there were 101 unsuccessful attempts to develop drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, with only three drugs gaining approval for treating symptoms of the disease, it said.

The report, compiled by the World Innovation Summit for Health’s (Wish) Dementia Forum, warned that a “history of failures” has created “funding fatigue” among donors and drugs firms.

Major drugs companies had halved the number of research programmes into central nervous system disorders, a category which includes dementia, between 2009 and 2014, the report said. Experts said that with no known cure and a huge increase in cases expected within a decade “a massive step change in research funding” was needed.

The number of people living with dementia worldwide is set to reach 135 million by 2050, by which time the cost of care is anticipated to exceed $1trn (£652bn) in the US alone. The Wish report warns that, without a drug breakthrough, dementia will “move from a major health challenge to a global economic crisis”.

Dementia research has long suffered from chronic underinvestment compared to other major diseases such as cancer and HIV/Aids.

In recent years pharmaceutical giants including Pfizer and Eli Lilly have seen potential Alzheimer’s drugs fail, often at costs reaching the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Any further retreat from the sector would threaten the ambition, set out a year ago, for the G8 nations to find a dementia cure or major new treatment by 2025. There have been no new treatments for dementia licensed in the UK for 12 years.

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