As we begin to discover cures for the most complex, serious and emotion-evoking human conditions and diseases, a significant challenge remains that instills fear in the heart of current generations: Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a condition that already affects over 35 million people globally. Current projections – based on existing diagnoses and therapies – suggest that this figure will leap to over 115 million by 2050, so the universal cause for alarm appears to be well founded.
Moreover, as the disease burden on families, carers, and health and social care systems multiplies in parallel, the need for effective therapies is dire.
Against this distressing backdrop, the Innovative Medicines Initiative’s 5th Call for Proposals offers grounds for optimism: four of its six topics centre on Alzheimer’s – the other two being diabetes and patient involvement in research.
This is welcome news, and fitting for an initiative that seeks to improve public health by speeding up development and patient access to innovative medicines, particularly in areas of unmet medical or social need.
Backed by a healthy financial sponsorship of €95 million, IMI’s latest and laudable foray into the Alzheimer’s field will focus on four projects.
The first, “Inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease” should help to identify new drug targets by focusing on two proteins (called TREM2 and CD33). These are linked to inflammation the potential to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
“Amyloid imaging biomarkers” will evaluate whether knowledge of a patient’s amyloid brain status – the existence of clumps of protein in brains called amyloid plaques – is helpful for diagnosis and treatment. This could determine the value of amyloid imaging in drug development.
The third Proposal is “Alzheimer’s disease and patient engagement”. If we can pinpoint the most effective ways of identifying and engaging with people at the very earliest stages of the disease, this would boost our understanding, help patients access support at this early stage, and expedite clinical trial recruitment.
Finally, the Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) biology topic will explore precisely how ApoE4 influences the development of Alzheimer’s and is furthermore aimed at paving the way for new treatment strategies and better identification of individuals at the greatest risk of developing the disease.
It is vital to stress, though, that as Europeans, we are all in this together: half of the Call’s budget (€47.5 million) comes from the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 programme; EFPIA companies involved in the projects, together with Associated Partners, will make up the other half. Equally important to underscore is that EFPIA member companies contribute voluntarily and do not receive any funding from IMI or other contributors.
The resulting collaboration represents a public/private partnership working at its most efficient, for the benefit of all EU citizens.
The drive to find new treatments for Alzheimer’s within the framework of IMI has a solid foundation. March this year saw the launch of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Platform. Funded to the tune of €138 million, the IMI ADRP consists of three ground-breaking projects: AETIONOMY, EMIF and EPAD.
AETIONOMY is looking to create a new approach towards the classification of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to improve drug development and patient access. EMIF involves developing a common information framework of patient-level data to promote new research avenues of, including for Alzheimer’s. EPAD is pioneering a new, more flexible approach to clinical trials of Alzheimer’s therapies in people who have the disease but no onset of dementia.
Combined, they offer the hope of accelerated R&D with a view to creating viable, cost-effective therapies to treat patients with a debilitating disease.
What’s more, they’re backed by a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between IMI and the Global Alzheimer’s Platform (GAP). The agreement aims to accelerate Alzheimer’s drug development by building a global, standing, trial-ready platform for Alzheimer’s drug development. This will aid the three projects’ global outreach and facilitate collaboration with with other Alzheimer’s research projects worldwide.
It is only by exploring as many options as we can in as many collaborative ways as we can, that innovative therapies can be developed for complex human diseases and for the improvement of public health. In Alzheimer’s the world’s largest public-private partnership in life sciences, IMI, is doing just that.