G8 health ministers vow to ‘stop dementia in its tracks’ by 2025

Regulatory rules will be eased to hurry the development of new drugs

British prime minister  David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the G8 Dementia Summit  in London today. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images

British prime minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the G8 Dementia Summit in London today. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Wed, Dec 11, 2013, 20:18

Dementia will be cured, or “stopped in its tracks” by 2025, some of the world’s wealthiest nations vowed today as they backed global co-operation to fight the disease.

Nearly 35 million people suffer from dementia, and there are 4,000 new cases every year in Ireland alone, but the global numbers are expected to rise to 135m in little more than 30 years.

Health ministers from the G8 countries were told today by British prime minister David Cameron that “a global fight-back” - similar to ones already in place to fight malaria, HIV and cancer - is needed.

Under the plans, regulatory rules will be lifted, or eased to hurry the development of new drugs, while business, governments and scientists will bid to work more closely than ever before.

However, British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made no secret of the hurdles ahead: “You have to aim for the stars, if you are going to reach the Moon,” he said, speaking after the Lancaster House summit.

If a cure cannot be found by 2025 then the ambition will be to find a drug that can “stop dementia in its tracks”, just as retroviral drugs are able to do today for those living with HIV.

The global response to the H1 N1 Asian flu pandemic offers a route-map, since it was tackled with unprecedented speed, said the head of the World Health Organisation, Margaret Chan.

However, she said, each person has a responsibility where possible to eat properly, not become over-weight, exercise, not smoke and drink modestly - all of which help to fend off the onset of dementia.

One of the first challenges is to tackle the perception that dementia “is a normal part of ageing”, she said: “It isn’t a normal process. You don’t have to have dementia.”

Globally, dementia costs $600 billion a year in care bills, often informal ones where families struggle to help a relative away from hospitals, or doctors.

Sometimes, dementia, said Prime Minister Cameron, is seen as a disease of the rich world, but, in reality, two-thirds of those affected live in the developing world.

Tom Coppins, diagnosed at 55 with dementia three years ago, complained that “only a drop in the ocean” is being spent on research, compared with the sums being spent on cancer.

“Obviously, I am interested in what is happening now. It is a myth that it is affects only old people,” said Mr Coppins, who was thanked later by Mr Hunt for speaking publicly.

The London meeting, said the British Health Secretary, will be seen as important if it removes the stigma surrounding dementia: “If today works, it will be about the normalisation of dementia.”

Research funds for dementia will match those for cancer “when we stop sweeping dementia under the carpet”, Mr Hunt declared, adding that British funding has doubled and will double again.

Currently, nearly £600 million is spent every year in the UK on cancer research with £267 mililion of that coming from the British Government. However, just £52 million of State money goes towards dementia research.