Cambridge Judge students and alumni make a difference in the fight against dementia.
This year’s Dementia Awareness Week runs from 15-21 May and is supported by the Alzheimer’s Society – the UK’s leading support and research charity for people with dementia, their families and carers. The theme this year focuses on encouraging people who are worried about dementia to confront their worries by addressing dementia directly and going to the Alzheimer’s Society for information and support.
At Cambridge Judge Business School, we have several students, alumni and entrepreneurs working in the field of dementia and Alzheimer’s. They have been able to share their insights with us on what motivated them to work in this area, the challenges they face and their vision for the future.
Saira Ramasastry, Alumni Advisory Council member
Saira Ramasastry, Managing Partner of Life Sciences Advisory (LSA), has over 20 years of advisory experience with a core focus in neuroscience and orphan diseases and she serves on the Alumni Advisory Council at Cambridge Judge, having completed the MPhil in Management programme. Saira was named in the 2011 Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal’s “40 under 40” list and was recently named a top life sciences advisor by Acquisition International and CorporateLiveWire.
Saira tells us:
“Neurodegenerative diseases represent the world’s largest area of unmet need. There are over 55 million people worldwide suffering, and the estimated cost of care is over $800 billion growing to over $1 trillion by 2030. Unless we find innovative treatments and preventions, we face a potentially insurmountable global socioeconomic crisis.
“And yet, there are no disease modifying treatments and neurodegenerative disease R&D represents one of the most underfunded areas in drug development. The haunting 99.6 per cent failure rate has put investment on the sidelines.
“I had to do something. When I founded Life Sciences Advisory in 2009, I devoted a core part of my practice to helping find new funding models for neurodegenerative therapies. I wanted to catalyse action and bring together the many groups – industry, academic, government, philanthropy – to help patients win back the future.
“I am proud to be a part of collaborative groups like the G8 Dementia Initiatives and the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia (EPAD). There is so much to do if we are to succeed in finding a cure by 2025. But, the coming together of global forces makes us unstoppable.”
Al L. Pineda, Jan Ruzicka, Loic Merckel, EMBA 2015
EMBA participants Al L. Pineda, Jan Ruzicka, Loic Merckel collaborated with Czech professor Omar Sery to create Aequa Sciences, a UK based start-up that aims to provide solutions and preventative measures for Alzheimer’s disease and other multifactorial diseases.
The company uses neural network technology and big data to calculate the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and provide patients with prevention measures. A neural network is a type of artificial learning system that operates analogously to the human brain. This results in a computer having accrued memory and quick thinking speed to find patterns between patient data. Once a patient’s risk is assessed using this technology, prevention measures will be recommended. These measures may include lifestyle changes and food supplements derived from Western and traditional Chinese medicine to reduce the probability of development of the disease.
Al L. Pineda, one of the co-founders of Aequa Sciences, tells us that founding the company was on the agenda from his very first week on the Cambridge EMBA in 2015.
“I remember a talk we had which focused on how Alzheimer’s disease was characterised by a progressive decline of mental abilities, leading to dementia and death and how serious it was. This hit a spot with Jan, Loic and me, and from the beginning, we shared the primary goal of not just extending human life, but prolonging a healthy life.
“My co-founders and I come from diverse backgrounds and I believe that made us compatible from the start. Jan has a firm grasp on healthcare and politics. Loic brings his expertise in artificial intelligence and I am an entrepreneur with the keen sense of business. The only thing that was lacking was an expert in neuroscience and data, but an introduction to Omar Sery completed our quartet and Aequa Sciences was born.
“There have been challenges along the way. Particularly in the beginning, the data was not as rich as we had hoped and had very weak markers for prediction. However, with Omar’s expertise in multifactorial diseases and rich data, we have now been able to gather pertinent data and very accurate results.
“We are a company with tremendous optimism and our vision to enhance and extend the quality of human life is ambitious, but with the right investment, time and persistence I know we will achieve our goal.”
Edye Hoffmann, Social Incubator East alumna
Edye Hoffmann is the Founder and Director of dementiaCOMPASS, a not-for-profit, volunteer led organisation, established in October 2010. Edye was also a participant on the Social Incubator East Programme, now run at Cambridge Judge.
dementiaCOMPASS offers an on-going community programme designed especially for people living with dementia – both an individual with a dementia diagnosis and their care partner.
Currently these programmes include: D’Music’a community choirs and the Portals to the World museum programme. They also support family members, partners and friends with resource meetings, seminars, workshops and skill-building sessions.
“My motivation has always been about wanting to highlight what still works for an individual with dementia and how the brain and body compensate for the impairment.
“It’s been a challenge at times as often the press and funding bodies really want to focus on the advanced stages of dementia and life in a care home. But this is a very small part of the pathway an individual experiences and really contorts expectations for those living with dementia.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t mind being out of work someday, with services no longer necessary. But in the meantime, improving services and resources for those faced with a diagnosis is what I love to do. I get a great deal of satisfaction in helping people put things back on their list that fell off at the point of diagnosis.”