IMI Impact: collaboration is key to dementia challenge (Guest blog)

Dementia is a devastating disease. It steals memories, independence, and quality of life. The risk of cognitive impairment increases with age. So, as our populations get older, more people in Europe will develop dementia. This imposes a significant burden on individuals, on their families and on the healthcare system.
Action is needed to identify better diagnostics and therapies to reduce the impact of dementia. However, cognitive and functional decline in the frame of a chronic neurodegenerative disease is a complex field of study. Despite significant investment and effort from public sector research institutions and individual companies, dementia remains a major challenge. By involving different key players in health research, public-private partnerships are a valid tool to build on each other’s expertise.
That is where the Innovation Medicines Initiative (IMI) comes in. Since 2008, €435 million has been invested in 21 projects that positively impact dementia research. By developing new tools, fostering culture change, and building a robust ecosystem of researchers and infrastructure in Europe, IMI initiatives are a catalyst for advancing scientific knowledge and solutions.
New paths to treatment
The path to new therapies begins with improving scientists’ understanding of the fundamental mechanism of disease: they need to understand how the brain works – why things sometimes go wrong – and what can be done to preserve cognitive function. Identifying new biomarkers and treatment targets, and developing novel trial designs, can help to deliver much-needed disease-modifying medicines.
The AETIONOMY project came up with a new way to classify neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease which is the most common cause of dementia. This approach, based on the mechanism of disease, enables drug developers and regulators to focus on the drivers of disease rather than on symptoms. The project also delivered ways to connect these underlying mechanisms with biomarkers in patients, paving the way for new diagnostics and treatments.
Identifying early signs of disease and predicting how the condition will progress in individual patients, will be a key element of a holistic approach to managing dementia. Through EMIF, researchers worked on the discovery and validation of novel diagnostic and prognostic markers of predementia Alzheimer’s disease. Separately, PRISM identified biomarkers for social and cognitive defects – putting the spotlight on the devasting impact dementia can have on mental health and social wellbeing.
The search for therapies
Efforts to advance the search for new treatments include IMPRIND which studied how the build-up of proteins between cells could be a target for therapies, and STEMBANC which used stem cells to generate therapeutically relevant disease models. As treating dementia requires crossing the blood-brain barriers, delivering biologics and other large molecules to the brain may be essential. This has been the focus of the COMPACT project looking at novel drug delivery systems.
Reducing the burden on patients and caregivers is best achieved by involving them in research. The inclusion of patients and patient advocates in research and clinical trial design not only gives these studies greater credibility, it also improves participation and enhances the prospects of generating meaningful results for those in need.
EPAD developed patient friendly, adaptive studies, while MOPEAD issued recommendations on improving early recruitment into Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials. PRISM also advanced early stage engagement with patients, family members and patient organisations in the development of novel clinical trial design.
Digital solutions
Making good use of existing and new data has the potential to catalyse breakthroughs in dementia research. Connecting information from patient records, real-world evidence, and biorepositories – and making these resources available to researchers – could unlock powerful insights leading to innovation in detecting, preventing and treating dementia.
Here too, IMI has been leading the way. IDEA FAST is generating a large, real-world digital dataset which, coupled with clinical data and data analytics, could enhance treatment options for people with Parkinson’s disease. The EMIF project is playing its part in digitising dementia research by breaking down silos, making it easier to find and use data.
In addition, ROADMAP, a project exploring how real-world outcomes data can be used to advance the care of Alzheimer’s disease, has identified a range of factors that could be included as outcome measures in research studies.

In all of these initiatives, the IMI allows data mining by third parties, helping to widen its impact and fuel advances in Europe and beyond. This stance reflects the IMI’s philosophy: the challenges it takes on are too big to tackle alone.

While there is still much work to do to address the rising burden of dementia, the best way forward is in the spirit of openness, collaboration and partnership. By paving the way for novel treatment options, making research more reflective of the real-world challenges facing patients, and facilitating meaningful data sharing, IMI is laying the foundation for a new era in dementia care.

Frank-Christophe Lintz

Dr. Frank-Christophe Lintz is Associate Director Crossfunctional Projects for AbbVie. He is a licensed pharmacist...
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Johannes Streffer

Johannes Streffer is Neurologist and Psychiatrist, currently VP, Head of Translational Medicine Neuroscience at...
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