BIO2017: Former UK Prime Minister Cameron Calls for More Alzheimer’s Research

Published: Jun 21, 2017

BIO2017: Former UK Prime Minister Cameron Calls for More Alzheimer’s Research June 21, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

SAN DIEGO – Since leaving office, former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has put aside politics for a different challenge—finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

In a keynote address at BIO International on Tuesday, Cameron stressed the dire need for public and private partnerships in working together to find a cure for the disabling disease. Since leaving the position of prime minister, Cameron has taken over the reins of Alzheimer’s Research UK, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for dementia.

During his address, Cameron sat down with James Goodman, president and chief executive officer of Bio, to talk about the importance of finding a successful therapy for Alzheimer’s as well as Cameron’s political career.

Dementia has long been a leading concern for Cameron, as he has watched family friends and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher succumb to the disease. In 2012 during his tenure as PM, Cameron launched the Dementia Challenge, which has a goal of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s by 2025. During his term in office, Cameron also conducted dementia exercises with members of his cabinet so they would have a better understanding of the disease.

Cameron stressed the need for public and private organizations to “pile money” into dementia research to “find a way out of the forest” of failing possibilities.

“We’re still hacking our way through the forest when it comes to research,” Cameron said.

Goodman said the issue of finding a successful treatment for dementia has been difficult for the pharma and biotech industry. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on research, approximately 96 percent of clinical trials have failed. Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s is something of a holy grail for researchers as they continue to maneuver through the thick forests (to use Cameron’s analogy). Last year, Eli Lilly saw its Phase III solanezumab trial fail. And earlier this year Merck pulled the plug on a Phase II/III study of verubecestat, a BACE inhibitor, for use in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

But, despite the struggles that so many companies had in developing a treatment (not to mention the struggles of families dealing with dementia), Cameron is optimistic. He said the industry is poised to make a breakthrough within the next decade or so.

“Where we are today with dementia is where we were with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s,” Cameron said.

But while patients and companies wait for successes, Cameron said it’s important to remember the large number of patients who will deal with the growing concerns of dementia in the meantime. Soon, he said, there will be more than one million people in Britain diagnosed with dementia. That number highlights the need for research in the space, Cameron added. Despite the growing number of dementia patients in the U.K., he said cancer research outpaces the dementia field.

For Cameron, the life sciences industry plays a critical role not only in the economic arena, but in providing hope for patients and their families. Cameron’s first-born son, Ivan, died at the age of six after struggling with a rare disease that brought on cerebral palsy and severe epileptic seizures. In his short life, Ivan, Cameron said, could suffer multiple seizures per day, some lasting for an hour. Ivan’s trials and triumphs played an enormous role in Cameron’s advocacy for the life sciences industry.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him,” Cameron said. “The life sciences industry is a key area of economic growth, but it’s also a place where they can discover they key causes of diseases such as the one that affected Ivan.”

One initiative Cameron addressed was a 2013 genome sequencing project done between Genomics England, Cancer Research UK and the U.K.’s National Health Services. The goal was to sequence 100,000 cancer genomes within five years. The project has provided an enormous amount of data that researchers can access, he said.

In addition to his role in the life science field as an advocate, the discussion turned to politics and Brexit. Cameron, who stepped down from his role as prime minister following the Brexit decision, said that vote is one he will remember for the rest of his life. He was an ardent supporter of remaining in the European Union and said he still believes that was the right decision. But now that the move will be completed by 2019, Cameron said he is confident U.K. lawmakers will not make any decisions that will damage the pharma and biotech industries. He said European employees who came to the U.K. for work will likely remain with those companies as legislators will not want to cause too much disruption.

“Don’t worry about your EU nationals who work for you in the U.K., their rights will be guaranteed,” Cameron said.

One thing companies should worry about, he said, is the U.K.’s future trading relationship with the European Union. That, he said, will be the most important decision facing Britain as far as Brexit.

“The nature of the trade relationship is what Britain needs to get right,” he said.

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