Dementia, the syndrome caused by several brain illnesses affecting memory, motor skills, thinking and behavior, affects 47 million people around the world and is projected to afflict 75 million by 2030, according to the World Health Organization.
It’s a syndrome that’s not only debilitating for the people who live with it but also for their families and caregivers. According to statistics from WHO the economic cost of dementia is roughly $818 billion.
Yet, it’s also one that’s the most poorly understood by researchers. Now, thanks to a $60 million commitment from the US AARP, a London-based fund has closed with $350 million to invest in new medicines to combat dementia and its underlying illnesses.
Initially formed by the UK Department of Health and Social Care and the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) alongside a consortium of pharmaceutical companies, including Biogen, Eli Lilly and Company, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Otsuka (Astex), Pfizer and Takeda, the Dementia Discovery Fund had initially targeted $200 million to invest in new treatments.
Commitments from other wealthy individuals (like Bill Gates) and interested organizations like (ahem) the NFL Players Association, and UnitedHealth Group helped round out the commitments to get the fund closed at its $350 million hard cap.
Founded in October, 2015 by SV Health Investors, a venture capital and growth equity firm with offices in London and Boston and roughly $2.5 billion under management, the Dementia Discovery Fund has already invested in 16 companies in the U.S. and the U.K. focused on microglial biology and inflammation, mitochondrial dynamics, trafficking and membrane biology and synaptic physiology and functions.
“At the DDF, we are focused on scientific approaches that look beyond the amyloid beta pathway into other areas, such as inflammation, mitochondrial function and the preservation and enhancement of healthy brain cells,” said Kate Bingham, managing partner of SV Health Investors, in a statement. “These areas are highly likely to be important to chronic traumatic encephalopathy or traumatic brain injury, leading to renewed hope for treatment of these terrible disorders.”
For the AARP, the investment in finding cures for dementia is central to the nonprofit’s mission going forward, according to chief executive Jo Ann Jenkins. “Dementia doesn’t just affect those with the disease. It takes a devastating emotional, physical and financial toll on families and caregivers. The projected doubling of the size of the 65+ population over the next generation makes finding new ways to treat dementia, including Alzheimer’s, even more critical,” she said.