Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has launched a new ‘national mission’ to tackle dementia as he doubled research funding in memory of the late Dame Barbara Windsor.
Dame Barbara’s husband, Scott Mitchell, met with the Premier recently at Downing Street, where they discussed the significant suffering caused by dementia and the slow process of finding treatments and cures. In response, the Prime Minister has launched the ‘Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission’, and revealed an additional £95 m in ring-fenced funding to support the national mission, ‘boosting the number of clinical trials and innovative research projects’. This will help meet the manifesto commitment to double dementia research funding by 2024, reaching a total of £160 m per year.
The ‘mission’ will be driven by a new taskforce, bringing together industry, the NHS, academia, and families living with dementia. By speeding up clinical trials, the Government says more hypotheses and potential treatments can be tested for dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. The taskforce will build on the success of the COVID Vaccine Taskforce led by Kate Bingham.
Boris Johnson said: “Dame Barbara Windsor was a British hero. I had the pleasure of meeting her both on the set of Eastenders as Peggy Mitchell, and at Downing Street as we discussed the injustices faced by dementia sufferers. I am delighted we can now honour Dame Barbara in such a fitting way, launching a new national dementia mission in her name.
I am doubling research funding and calling for volunteers to join ‘Babs’ Army’. We can work together to beat this disease, and honour an exceptional woman who campaigned tirelessly for change.”
One million people are predicted to be living with dementia by 2025, and 1.6 million by 2040. Up to 40% of cases are potentially preventable, but causes are still poorly understood.
More clinical trials are needed, but – the Department of Health and Social Care says –
‘these are often overly time-consuming, with resources wasted on trying to find volunteers’. As part of his announcement, the Prime Minister issued a call for volunteers with or without a family history of dementia to come forward and sign up for clinical trials for preventative therapies.
Scott Mitchell said: “The first in 15 Prime Ministers and over 70 years to grasp the nettle and reform social care, I’m so pleased Boris had the conviction to do this reform. I’m so honoured that not only has he reformed social care, but he’s also committed this new money in Barbara’s name to make the necessary research breakthroughs to find a cure for dementia.
Barbara would be so proud that she has had this legacy, which will hopefully mean that families in the future won’t have to go through the same heart-breaking experience she and I had to endure.”
The new taskforce, combined with the extra funding, will work to reduce the cost of trials while speeding up delivery. Existing NIHR infrastructure will be used, ‘building on new ways of working pioneered during COVID vaccination clinical trials’. A recruitment process will start for a taskforce lead, with the successful candidate ‘focusing on galvanising action while ensuring the best use of taxpayers’ money’.
The Department of Health and Social Care says the new national mission will build on recent advances in biological and data sciences, including genomics, AI, and the latest brain imaging technology, to test new treatments from a growing range of possible options.
Researchers will look for signals of risk factors, which could help those at risk from developing dementia to understand how they might be able to slow or prevent the disease in the future.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay (pictured), said: “Anyone who lives with dementia, or has a loved one affected, knows the devastating impact this condition can have on their daily lives, but for too long our understanding of its causes have not been fully understood. By harnessing the same spirit of innovation that delivered the vaccine rollout, this new dementia mission, backed by £95 m of government funding, will help us find new ways to deliver earlier diagnosis, enhanced treatments, and ensure a better quality of life for those living with this disease, both now and in the future.”