It’s more than 15 years since the pharmaceutical industry succeeded in launching a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, over 99% of trial drugs have failed and, as a consequence, fewer of the big pharma companies are researching and developing treatments for patients suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia in all their cruel forms.

The millions of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and their families, who do so much to support them, have therefore been left without any real hope. After so many disappointing failures, there is now in the public’s mind, little evidence of the urgency that we have seen drive research to treat other devastating diseases such as cancer and HIV.

However, there are some bright spots on the horizon with plenty of researchers still working in this area and many companies, small and large, focusing on this disease which so desperately needs an injection of new ideas. Charities too have a growing role to play in dementia research which, according to the Alzheimer’s Society is underfunded when compared to the economic cost of the condition.

Most recently, researchers at the University of Exeter published a paper in Translational Psychiatry about the discovery of a vicious feedback loop underlying brain degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease which may explain why so many drug trials have failed. The study also identified a clinically approved drug which breaks the cycle and protects against memory-loss in animal models of Alzheimer’s.

Where to start

With such limited success in recent years, the number of people with direct experience of bringing new treatments to market is shrinking all the time and the diminishing pool of experienced and talented people makes it more difficult for organisations to build successful teams.

Many funders and investors are focused on targeting the disease in its earliest stages, before symptoms develop. That could well lead to a new drug, but it doesn’t help the millions of people who already have Alzheimer’s-related dementia. Consequently, a huge range of other possible approaches from lifestyle improvements and disease modification to cutting-edge treatments are also being worked on. While some disease pathways such as the amyloid cascade are often a primary focus, the number of possible diagnostic and treatment options shows that it is still unclear to many researchers just how to tackle this disease. Let’s not forget also that there continue to be wider clinical needs in neurodegeneration and in psychiatry for schizophrenia and mood disorders.

And where will we find the people?

All of this brings me to my thoughts on the talent needed to turn all this effort into success and where the people are going to come from. We must be creative in our approach and open our minds to new possibilities such as moving people across geographies and sectors. We should look at talent pools in areas with different working cultures and approaches such as academia. Embracing and implementing flexible employment structures would help us to bring the expertise to where it is most needed.

At The RSA Group, we have industry-leading expertise in delivering neuroscience talent. If you’d like to discuss this more or find out how our successful and industry leading Proof-of-Candidate® approach can help you, then please contact me.

Mark Howard, Managing Partner |

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