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European Biopharmaceutical Review

The Power to Defeat Dementia

EBR: What first attracted you to the pharmaceutical industry?

Eric Karran: I was initially offered several research posts but, finally, was drawn to the pharma sector because I could see there was real potential for my scientific efforts to contribute to something that could make a difference to patients. I think many scientists have similar motivations. One thing that becomes apparent is that the majority of departments in a pharma company are staffed with bright, enthusiastic people. Working alongside them is fun and a great opportunity to learn.

Which part of your job do you most enjoy?

I enjoy the conception and delivery of novel initiatives. Starting with a blank piece of paper and ending up with something that is real, functioning, and which could accelerate progress towards finding new therapeutics is very rewarding.

And which part is the most challenging?

On a personal level, I miss the primary generation and interpretation of data. I used to feel that I was at the cutting edge of discovery, rather than now, when I am trying to find new ways to put others at the cutting edge.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I am still focusing on the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance, which is putting together three drug discovery institutes from the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and University College London. I am also hoping to increase the number of partners in the Dementia Consortium and am trying to organise, along with some colleagues, a primary prevention clinical study.

Tell us about the role of the Dementia Consortium – what are its aims?

The aims of the Consortium are to raise funds for promising new drug targets and help them through the fi rst steps of development. Those involved are Eli Lilly, Eisai, MRC Technology and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The charity is putting in significant funding, as are the pharma partners, to perform early-stage drug discovery on new targets proposed by academic groups around the world. We are currently looking for more partners to join us, to enable more projects to be launched.

What are the challenges of public/private partnerships?

So far, I have been greatly impressed by the willingness of all parties to work together. However, the complexity of such partnerships brings with it some obstacles: getting decisions made in a timely manner; obtaining the right legal agreements; and even simple things, such as finding time to hold meetings. But none of this is insurmountable.

And what are the benefits?

Ultimately, the main benefit is that patients will receive access to better therapies for some devastating diseases sooner, rather than later.

Can we expect to see more of these partnerships in the future?

Yes, I think when all parties can align behind a common goal, where there is general acknowledgment that no single group has the solution and every party can respect and appreciate each other’s contribution, then partnerships will emerge.

In which areas is dementia research focusing?

This is a big question. In terms of Alzheimer’s disease, which causes about two-thirds of all dementia, there is recognition that clinical testing of new agents needs to take place as early as possible in the disease process – and ideally before people start to manifest cognitive changes. But running these trials is uncharted territory, and it is a big commitment in terms of time and money.

Have there been any recent success stories?

Several drugs are now being analysed that will test key elements of our understanding of the disease process. Of course, we all hope that they will be successful and show real clinical benefit for patients, but even if they do not, if they have thoroughly tested the therapeutic hypothesis on which they were based, then they will have taken us closer to our goal of finding effective therapies – by ruling out particular approaches.

What are your hopes for the next decade?

I would like to see an effective therapy that halts, or at least slows down, the progression of Alzheimer’s. I also hope that the increased focus on dementia that we have seen in the last year will be sustained, so that we can continue to bring benefits to sufferers.

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Dr Eric Karran joined Alzheimer’s Research UK in 2012 as Director of Research. He is responsible for driving forward the organisation’s research strategy, as well as its external representation. Eric has extensive experience gained from holding senior positions in neuroscience drug discovery; most recently, he was Vice President Neuroscience Research at Janssen Pharmaceutics, Belgium. He interacts widely with leading academic groups, as well as working with public funding agencies like the Medical Research Council.
Eric Karran
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