Four years ago, Bill Gates ran a project in which he and a few other billionairesincluding Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott, pledged thirty million dollars to create a new engine within a foundation against Alzheimer’s to accelerate the development of tests to diagnose the disease. This funding was later increased to $50 million.
Today, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation announced a New funding commitment of $50 million from previous donors, like Gates, Bezos, the former president of Estee Lauder, Leonard Lauder (founder of the foundation with his brother Ronald); and the family of the late Ray Dolby, as well as some new donors, funds that will support the next phase of their efforts to improve screening for Alzheimer’s disease. Donations to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation fall under “venture philanthropy”. Any financial return the investments receive will go into the foundation rather than the pockets of the donors.
Gates, Bezos and Lauder are now donating $11.25 million each for the foundation’s diagnostic project, while Dolby Family Ventures contributes five million of dollars. The four new donors join in supporting diagnostic research are pharmaceutical companies biogenic (which gives five million dollars) and Eli Lilly & Co. (which gives a million dollars), the NFL Players Association and Shanahan Family Charitable Foundationwho is donating $5 million and is linked to former Capital Group executive R. Michael Shanahan, who, according to his obituary, died in 2020 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Bill Gates’ gift is also personal. In January 2018, he revealed on the show Today that his then 92-year-old father, Bill Gates Sr., suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Bill Gates Sr. died in 2020 at the age of 94.
The difficult diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to diagnose. As Gates explained in an article on Blog in 2018, neither of the two most common methods – a lumbar puncture or a PET scan – is ideal. A lumbar puncture is invasive and can be uncomfortable, and a PET scan requires patients to lie still for up to forty minutes, which is not easy to do.
The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation’s goal is to have non-invasive tests –like an eye scan or blood test– who can make an early diagnosis of the disease. Some are already in development, and last week a foundation-backed company, Quanterix, announced a new research blood test.
“The role of our philanthropy is to take riskssays Dr. Howard Fillit, co-founder and scientific director of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. “The initial capital we provide is vitally important“. Fillit describes the work done by the foundation as funding “the valley of death”, i.e. helping to direct promising academic research into preclinical trials, research often considered too risky by many venture capitalists. -risk and by big pharma.
Niranjan Bose, director gerente de la ciencias de la salud y de la vida en la empresa de inversion de Bill Gates, Gates Ventures, explained that with the first fundo de diagnóstico de cincuenta milliones de dólares de la fundación en 2018, “empezamos a sembrar el Country [del diagnóstico] with investments. Now, some of those investments have progressed to the point where they require more funding and, in some cases, larger checks of two to three million dollars. So Gates and others are doubling their donations now, Bose says, “so these germs keep growing.”
threadwhich also carries forty years caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, is pleased with the progress made so far. When he started working as a doctor, the only way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease was a brain biopsy (after the patient died). “Now I can send a patient for a brain scan called Amyvidwhich is FDA approved, he says. This CT scan, he adds, can tell you with 90% certainty whether a patient has the disease. The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation funded Amyvid, originally developed by Avid Radiopharmaceuticals and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania; It is now owned by Eli Lily & Co.
This is an exciting time for Alzheimer’s disease researchers. There are more than 120 drugs in the clinical trial phase In the whole world; thirty of them have received funding from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. Over the past four years, the foundation’s diagnostics accelerator has invested some $50 million in more than 40 global research projects including blood tests, eye scans and early digital technologies.
A company called RetiSpec, supported in part by the foundation, is developing a retinal test that detects neurodegenerative changes. “The eye is the window to the brain,” says Fillit, who imagines a scenario where you can have an eye exam once a year and additional images are taken that could detect Alzheimer’s disease less invasive than current tests.
Gates Ventures’ Bose is also hosting the possibility of performing an eye exam to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, because it could detect the disease earlier. “Before you start seeing amyloid [proteínas relacionadas con el Alzheimer] in the blood, you start seeing at the back of the retina,” says Bose, who believes they could occur one or two years before the retinal test is ready. Other companies are also trying to do optical diagnostic testing.
Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
For anyone interested in how to avoid Alzheimer’s disease, given the current lack of easy diagnosis and no drugs to stop the disease, Fillit says a lot has been learned about prevention. “The basic principle is that what is good for the heart is good for the brain“, he explains, and recalls that it is necessary to exercise regularly, follow a mediterranean diet, avoid tobacco, alcohol and stressthere get enough sleep. the place the Web from the foundation contains information on prevention, as well as reviews of foods and supplements and articles on brain health.
There is still much to learn about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Fillit asserts that the research on this disease is perhaps fifty years behind what is known about cancer. One challenge: Enrolling patients in phase three clinical trials for new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease is difficult and expensive. But better diagnostics could make that process more efficient and much less expensive, Fillit says. And better diagnosis would allow patients to be enrolled in trials at an earlier stage of the disease.