updated 6/18/2014 7:04:12 PM ET 2014-06-18T23:04:12

LONDON (Reuters) - Drugmakers are linking with eight British universities in a 16 million-pound ($27 million) public-private partnership to speed up research into dementia by studying data from 2 million people in the world's largest such project.

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The new UK Dementias Research Platform will investigate the causes of dementia by tracking volunteers, aged 50 and over, who are taking part in existing population studies such as UK Biobank and the Million Women Study.

The aim is to give researchers a better understanding of who is at risk of getting dementia, possible triggers that lead to disease, and what might speed up or slow down its progression, the state-run Medical Research Council said on Thursday.

Major pharmaceutical companies backing the initiative include AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson.

David Willetts, the government's minister for universities and science, said the new platform was critical in helping Britain achieve its target of doubling dementia research funding.

The move coincides with a meeting of dementia experts in London following a summit last December involving ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) nations, which set a goal of finding a cure or effective treatment for dementia by 2025.

The London meeting was the first G8 summit on a specific illness since HIV/AIDS and its target is ambitious, considering there is no obvious cure on the horizon.

Dementia - of which Alzheimer's disease is the most common form - already affects 44 million people worldwide and this is set to reach 135 million by 2050, according to Alzheimer's Disease International, a non-profit campaign group.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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