New tools for Alzheimer’s

Coalition of philanthropists commit more than $30 million for better ways to diagnose Alzheimer's disease

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NEW YORK—Philanthropist Bill Gates and Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) co-founder Leonard Lauder recently announced a new initiative, Diagnostics Accelerator, to develop novel biomarkers for the early detection of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.
Gates and Lauder provided the initial funding to collaborate with the ADDF to undertake the initiative, and they are joined by a group of other philanthropists, including the Dolby family and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation.
“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,” Lauder said.
For his part, Gates explained his involvement by writing online, “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.”
Diagnostics Accelerator is a “venture philanthropy vehicle,” a model that the participants say gives it the flexibility to back promising cutting-edge research that may not have a guaranteed immediate commercial return. Their aim, they say, is to strike a balance between taking more risks than traditional venture capital funds and being more focused on developing real products for the marketplace than basic research funded by governments or charitable organizations.
Dr. Howard Fillit, founding executive director and chief science officer of the ADDF, notes that one of the key barriers to the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease is an insufficient toolbox of biomarkers to noninvasively and inexpensively diagnose patients in clinical practice, and to screen and identify specific patient subgroups that might benefit from specific novel therapies being tested in clinical trials. Biomarkers are also used to monitor disease progression and response to treatment, and improve the rigor and efficiency of clinical trials.
“Biomarkers can show whether someone is suffering from a disease, and also how the body responds to a treatment for that disease,” Fillit said. “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 notes that one of the goals of Diagnostics Accelerator is to aid in the development of novel drugs for new targets, such as inflammation and epigenetics. “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," he explained.
Funding provided through the Diagnostics Accelerator initiative is open to scientists and clinicians globally working in academic medical centers, universities or other nonprofits, or those working in biotechnology companies. For the nonprofit path, industry partnerships are encouraged. For the biotech path, funding is provided through mission-related investments that require return on investment—existing companies and new spinouts are both eligible.
According the leaders of this new effort, “Rigorous scientific due diligence will be conducted by the ADDF on each proposal to the Diagnostics Accelerator.”

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