A group of philanthropists that includes Microsoft Founder Bill Gates, in conjunction with the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), have announced a $30 million dollar initiative for research to develop novel biomarkers early detection diagnostics for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias.
Dubbed the Diagnostics Accelerator, the investment fund will seek out researchers and technologies that can help tackle one of the most significant roadblocks to effective drug development, treatment and diagnosis of AD—an inadequate collection of relevant biomarkers that would allow for easier clinical diagnoses.
"Over the next three years, we will provide more than $30 million in grants to researchers who are working on the most promising and innovative ideas to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease early before the more devastating symptoms occur," says Leonard Lauder ADDF co-founder in a press release announcing the new fund.
Last fall, in a post on his Gates Notes blog, Gates announced that he would be making an investment in Alzheimer’s research and outlined five areas of focus for his funding: a better understanding of how the disease develops; better and earlier AD detection; development of new and better drugs; facilitate enrollment of AD patients in clinical trials; and finding better ways to use data to address the disease.
“By improving in each of these areas, I think we can develop an intervention that drastically reduces the impact of Alzheimer’s,” Gates writes in the November 2017 blog post. “There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about our chances: our understanding of the brain and the disease is advancing a great deal. We’re already making progress—but we need to do more.”
The creation of the Diagnostics Accelerator is a step in that direction. Described as a “venture philanthropy vehicle,” the fund has more flexibility than a typical venture fund in that it can invest in promising research and technologies regardless of whether they may provide a direct return on that investment. In short, its focus is not on generating profits, rather on supporting efforts for product development beyond the basic science typically funded by government and charitable organizations.
"Imagine a world where diagnosing Alzheimer's disease is as simple as getting your blood tested during your annual physical. Research suggests that future isn't that far off, and Diagnostics Accelerator moves us one step closer," Gates says.
At the core of this effort will be finding and validate new AD biomarkers that can be used to monitor disease progression and response to treatment and identify disease sub-types t enable more precise treatments for patients.
"Biomarkers can show whether someone is suffering from a disease, and also how the body responds to a treatment for that disease," says Howard Fillit, M.D., founding executive director and CSO of the ADDF. "The significance of biomarkers in Alzheimer's disease research is underscored by recent FDA guidelines that recognize the critical role of biomarkers in drug development, and shift the research definition of the early stages of the disease to include biomarkers, even before clinical symptoms become apparent."
Fillit continues: "Like in cancer today, using the biomarker specific model of precision medicine, we will be able to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies will work in different at-risk populations of people who have Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia."
Funding provided by the accelerator is available to scientists worldwide working in either an academic setting or biotech companies where funding “is provided through mission-related investments that require return on investment,” according to the press release announcing the new fund.
For more information and/or to apply for a grant, go to https://www.alzdiscovery.org/accelerator.