Two initiatives aimed at dealing with major global health problems kicked off this week, with the announcement of a Dementia Discovery Fund with an initial $100 million to encourage a search for new drug targets and de-risk drug development in dementia, and a £175 million Fleming Fund, to address the fact that infectious bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic drugs.
Both funds pull in international charitable and corporate backers and are spearheaded by the UK government.
The Dementia Discovery Fund will back early stage research to find new targets and bring forward new treatments for dementia, an affliction that in its various forms is now the major cause of disability and dependency in old age. Caring for people with dementia cost $605 billion worldwide in 2012. The incidence of the disease is rising, threatening an unsustainable economic burden.
The fund’s goal is to spur high-risk, early-stage life science research into Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, in an attempt to reduce the risks involved in investing in the field. It is claimed that this is the first global VC fund dedicated to dementia drugs.
Of the $100 million, the UK government put in $22 million to kick start the fund, with GlaxoSmithKline contributing $25 million and Johnson & Johnson $10 million. Three other pharma companies, Biogen Idec, Eli Lilly and Pfizer, have agreed in principle to invest, but have not made any financial commitments public yet.
The charity Alzheimer's Research UK will contribute €5 million to the fund over five years.
Jeremy Hunt, UK health secretary, announced the fund at the World Health Organisation’s first global ministerial meeting on dementia, held in Geneva this week.
Between 1998 and 2012, 104 drugs entered clinical development as treatments for dementia, of which 101 failed, according to a recent report. The last approval was over a decade ago.
“With only three new dementia treatment drugs approved in the past 15 years … it is clear that greater private sector investment will be essential to accelerate funding and overcome this global health issue,” said Peter Scher, head of corporate responsibility at investment bank JPMorgan, which advised the UK government on setting up the fund.
First of its kind
Matthew Norton, head of policy at Alzheimer's Research UK said, “It’s a tough nut; the science is very difficult. We think there are assets sitting on shelves and, through pooling risk, we hope we can exploit them.”
The fund will be run in the same way as a traditional VC fund. If any products are licensed or sold, the money will be returned to the fund and the investors. The pharma companies backing the fund do not have any preferential rights.
The UK government has taken a lead in getting the Dementia Fund off the ground after the G7 (then the G8) group of countries decided concerted action was needed in December 2013, when the UK held the presidency of the group.
The G7 made a pledge, matching an earlier commitment by US President Barack Obama, to develop a cure or disease-modifying therapy by 2025. Since December 2013 a number of international meetings have been held to discuss various facets of how to try and achieve this.
This week at the WHO conference, the issue became the focus of a worldwide coalition, with 80 countries represented at the meeting.
Antimicrobial resistance is another example of a health problem that does not respect national boundaries and requires concerted global action. The Fleming Fund, named for the discoverer of the first antibiotic, Alexander Fleming, is a collaboration between the UK government, the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Institut Pasteur and other partners.The money will be spent on building laboratories, surveillance networks and response capacity in low and middle income countries, to track the rise of drug resistant bacteria and inform public health measures.