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Neuroscience & Mental Health


We’re testing them on dementia sufferers.

Neuroscience and mental healthThere’s an urgent need for new drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease: in the UK alone, 800,000 have the disease. It’s expected that figure will rise to one million by 2021. An estimated 44.4 million people worldwide are thought to have the disease.

At King’s College London, researchers are taking several approaches to finding new drugs. We’re screening existing compounds and looking for existing drugs which could be repositioned to help treat people with Alzheimer’s. We’re also looking for drugs that will slow down the progression of the disease and offer better treatment for symptoms.  

Using a library of over 4,000 existing drugs we are trying to find a drug that functions in a similar way to the compound identified at the University of Leicester earlier this year. Researchers in Leicester found that this compound stopped the degeneration of cells with prion disease, itself a group of neurodegenerative diseases. 

It is thought that prion disease and dementia may have similar pathways. This compound is particularly exciting because it impacts upon disease progression as opposed to symptoms. 

We’re trying to work on the earlier stages of dementia because this will ultimately give patients a better quality of life. By trying to stop the disease from progressing, as opposed to only managing symptoms, we have a better chance of limiting, reducing and even stopping cell degeneration.

Previous drugs have centred on one cause of Alzheimer’s disease (the amyloid protein) but current knowledge indicates that this is not the most important target – our new approach, therefore, is much broader. We believe this will produce a drug that truly impacts on the disease process.

It’s increasingly urgent that we tackle dementia quickly, so we’re also looking at repositioning existing drugs that may be able to reduce the symptoms of dementia. 

The most expensive and time-consuming part of getting new medication to patients is safety testing. However, some drugs already on the market have potential additional functions. Testing existing drugs means they can be fast-tracked through studies in animals, and then go straight into clinical trial in humans. If the trials are successful, they should then be able to go straight to the clinic.

Viagra is an excellent example of repositioning; it was originally prescribed for men with high blood pressure.  

At the moment, we’re working on a trial of a diabetes drug we’re hoping to reposition to treat symptoms of dementia. And it’s not just Alzheimer’s that these drugs have the potential to tackle. Many of these drugs have potentially broad effects, so could be quickly tested in different dementias such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Lewy body dementia and vascular dementia.

Of the 4,000 drugs we’re screening, nine so far hold promise as additional treatments for patients with dementia. We’re making progress, but there’s still a long way to go. 

Generous donors have helped us start this vital work for the millions of people around the world with dementia. You can help them too. Please donate today.

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Further reading

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