9th July 2013
Speaking at the Local Government Association annual conference in Manchester, Mr Hunt said drug companies were confident they would have a cure for the condition within just seven years.
Mr Hunt said: “Finding drugs that can halt or cure dementia may seem a distant prospect now but there are drugs companies that think they will have a cure for dementia by 2020.”
The answer, Mr Hunt said, may lay with DNA mapping and Britain will be the first country in the world to map the DNA code of around 100,000 patients.
This mapping could unlock a “treasure trove” of information to help scientists treat diseases such as dementia and cancer and would be the “medical equivalent of the invention of the internet in terms of its significance”, Mr Hunt said.
He added: “For the UK, this is a very big opportunity, because we are the country that first cracked what DNA was back in 1953.
“We are the country that did the first hip replacement, the country that did the first heart, lung and liver transplant and we have a tremendous science tradition.”
An effective dementia treatment could save the NHS and local authorities billions of pounds a year from the cost of caring for the estimated 800,000 people in the UK who have the condition.
Chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK Rebecca Wood said: “The Health Secretary is right to place his faith in the potential of science to defeat dementia. If we are to alleviate the immense care burden caused by the condition, new treatments are vital.
“But scientists can only make progress with the right resources behind them. Dementia researchers in the UK are world leaders in their field but they are still under-resourced compared with those working on other serious diseases. For every six scientists working on cancer, just one works on dementia.
“For research to fulfil the promise of new treatments we need to see investment increase far beyond its current level and a real commitment to long-term funding for research.”
Chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society Jeremy Hughes said: “Dementia is the biggest health and social care challenge facing Britain today and the fact that a quarter of hospital beds are occupied by people with the condition shows the enormous burden it causes to the NHS.
“We need an all-out fightback from Government, industry and organisations like the Alzheimer’s Society to find a cure. There are currently more trials going on into hay fever than into some of the most common forms of dementia. It’s not just about drug companies developing new medications from scratch.
“Studies we’re funding show that drugs which are already licensed for other conditions may also treat dementia. If these are successful we could have them doubling as treatments for dementia within 10 years.”