Interview with Alastair Gray from the University of Oxford 23 Apr 2017

Today we talk with Alastair Gray about University of Oxford’s involvement in ROADMAP.

Alastair Gray is Professor of Health Economics & Director of the Health Economics Research Centre (HERC). He is also co-lead of Work Package 5 “Health Economics” and will give us an insight into what that means.

What is your role in ROADMAP?
In the ROADMAP project all of the themes or “Work Packages” have an academic lead and an industry lead, and I am the co-leader of Work Package 5, which is concerned with economic aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. My co-lead is Antje Tockhorn, who represents the industry side of the collaboration. Antje and I are responsible for steering our group, ensuring we have good communications within our team and with other parts of the ROADMAP project, and ultimately making sure that we deliver everything we promised to do.

Tell us a bit about the department you work for.
I work in the University of Oxford, with a group of economists interested in economic aspects of health and health care. ROADMAP is just one of a number of projects we are involved in at any time, but most of these focus on the common chronic disease like dementia, heart disease and the major cancers. Typically, we collaborate with other researchers, including clinicians and statisticians, to assess whether particular treatments work, and if so whether they can be afforded by our health service. We also look at the impact of particular diseases on individuals and their families, on the health system, and on society as a whole. For example, if someone has a major stroke, how is their quality of life affected and what treatments will they need in the short-term and long-term?

What challenges do you encounter and what is your motivation?
Of course economists do not always get a very good press, and are sometimes blamed for “reducing everything to money” or for wanting to make cuts and savings. But I would say that we are often just trying to improve things, for example to increase health by making sure our health systems are delivering the most effective and cost-effective treatments. And sometimes we do make a difference. For example, our research showing that dementia was getting much less research funding than cancer or heart disease in relation to its impact on our health and social care services helped persuade the UK government to greatly increase funding in this area.

What concrete steps are you undertaking in your work for ROADMAP?
As far as ROADMAP is concerned, the first thing we want to do is systematically search the existing literature for good evidence on the effect of Alzheimer’s disease on the quality of life of patients and their carers. We are also looking at all the previous studies on the costs of Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, using this published evidence and the many datasets which ROADMAP is also setting about finding, we plan to build a “model” of Alzheimer’s disease that will help us to understand how it develops and affects individuals and society. That will allow us to assess new treatments and ways of preventing or at least delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s.

What do you think is the most exciting aspect of the project?
The great thing about ROADMAP is that it has brought together so many people who want to improve our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, and ultimately want to reduce the harm it does. Getting academics, industry and policy makers together in this way does not happen very often, and is exciting but also one of the biggest challenges of ROADMAP. Fortunately, we also have a great support team running the project, and so I have high hopes that even in the short time we have for this first phase, we can start to make a real difference to what we know.

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