The development of new diagnostic tests and treatments for dementia is likely to be severely hampered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the charities that traditionally fund such work have lost much of their income, according to speakers at recent webinars organised by the Dementia Health Integration Team and the Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) Bristol and Bath Network Centre.
The loss of income through fundraising for the whole medical research charity sector is estimated to be 38%, which will result in a dramatic fall in research spending of £310million over the next year, according to Dr Sara Imarisio, head of Strategic Initiatives for the national UK charity Alzheimer’s Research UK.
This is due to cancellation of fundraising events and other activities, and staff being furloughed. ARUK is facing an income shortfall of around 45%, and like other medical charities having to make cuts; its usual Grant Review Board meetings that were due to be held in June 2020 and January 2021 have been cancelled, and the charity will not be awarding any new research grants until after June 2021.
This could be especially difficult for researchers on short-term contracts, who face not only delays in completion of their laboratory or clinical research but also fewer publications and a scarcity of new contracts, said Amarisio. She advised that researchers should make any future funding applications as strong as possible ‘just be prepared – you have to give your very best because we are expecting a level of competition that is probably unusual.’
Similarly, the charity BRACE, which funds dementia research mainly in the southwest has also had to freeze its grant application process until 2021. “The impact on the research we fund has been huge,” said Mark Poarch, BRACE Chief Executive Officer.
On a more positive note, however, BRACE had already committed a £140,000 grant prior to lockdown for continuation of the Southwest Dementia Brain Bank from May 2020 to autumn 2021, and to support the ReMemBr Group clinical research team at Southmead Hospital, including a research nurse and clinic coordinator. https://www.bristolhealthpartners.org.uk/latest-news/2020/07/15/key-dementia-research-facility-protected-thanks-to-brace/1347
“I feel very positive about the future of BRACE and the way that we’re rising to this challenge but raising the money we need to meet those challenges next year is going to be a big challenge for us,” Poarch warned. BRACE will be open to receiving new funding applications from researchers from November 2020 onwards, for consideration in February 2021.
Meanwhile, ARUK emphasized that it would allow flexibility for currently funded researchers, including project and studentship extensions and delayed starts to new projects. The charity is also continuing to offer the David Hague Early Career Investigator of the Year Award of £25,000 (deadline 25 September 2020), and the Race Against Dementia early career fellowships of up to £500,000 for 5 years, in partnership with charity set up by Formula One racing legend Jackie Stewart (applications deadline, January 2021).
“If [there’s] someone who springs to mind, please encourage them to apply or apply yourself if you’ve got three excellent outputs from your work – I’m sure there are lots of you out there”, said Honor Pollard, ARUK Science Communications Officer.
ARUK will also continue to support its regional network centres with pump-priming grants, travel grants and networking and careers building activities – including for Bristol and Bath members, many of whom are involved in the Dementia Health Integration Team.
The impact of COVID-19 has been felt particularly in the area of clinical trials. As many as 70% of trials funded by medical charities have been stopped, paused or delayed due to the pandemic, and there are concerns that many will not be able to restart due to lack of funding. More than one-third (58) of NHS-funded non-commercial clinical trials remain paused due to COVID-19-related safety restrictions on volunteers and staff, and staff being redeployed to ‘front line’ NHS work.
However, plans are underway for a phased restarting of clinical trials - https://www.nihr.ac.uk/documents/restart-framework/24886 and the start of new trials, according to Heather Tinkler, Research Delivery Manager, Clinical Research Network West of England.
ARUK position statement for researchers
Race Against Dementia Early Career Fellowship
David Hague Early Career Investigator of the Year Award
ARUK Network Centres
Impact of covid19 on dementia research, 23 June 2020
Opportunities for Early Career Researchers, 21 July 2020
CRN West of England