New philanthropic partners, Leonard A. Lauder, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, alongside an additional $50 million in financial commitments, allow for the initiation of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) second phase of its Diagnostics Accelerator. This will bring the total capital to $100 million and will be designated to speeding the development of new and innovative tests and technology for more accurate detection and early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
New funders include the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), Eli Lilly and Company, Biogen and the Shanahan Family Foundation, who were motivated by the progress made since the Diagnostics Accelerator was launched in 2018.
MacKenzie Scott, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration are among the other initial funders.
“Four years ago, we launched the Diagnostics Accelerator with the ADDF to accelerate new research to find a simple yet reliable test to diagnose Alzheimer’s early in its progression,” said the Managing Director, Health & Life Sciences at Gates Ventures, Niranjan Bose. “Thanks to the work of the funded researchers, there are now dozens of new biomarkers in the pipeline, which are critical to advancing new therapeutics for Alzheimer’s and helping us better understand this disease.”
More than six million Americans currently battle Alzheimer’s disease, making the mission of the Diagnostics Accelerator absolutely critical as more than half of those living with the disease are undiagnosed. By 2060 this number is expected to triple. Studies show that changes in the brain begin a decade or more before the disease becomes apparent, meaning tens of millions of Americans are symptom-free and living with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s.
“The day will soon come when there will be blood tests, eye scans and smartphone apps to diagnose Alzheimer’s, just as simple tests can diagnose hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol,” said Howard Fillit, M.D., Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer at the ADDF. “We cannot slow or stop the course of Alzheimer’s disease without first finding a simple way to diagnose it early, and with support from strategic partnerships like the Diagnostics Accelerator we are well on our way. Our aim is to bring more diagnostic tools to patients and physicians within the next five years.”
“Through this partnership with the ADDF, our contributions will help the scientific community advance their research so physicians and patients will have better tools to confirm a diagnosis, and ultimately, prevent and treat this disease,” said DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFLPA. “Our support of this collaborative research effort reflects the ongoing commitment of our union to improve the health and wellness of our players, other athletes and society at large.”
In addition to putting the early and specific diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease into the mainstream of physician offices, diagnostic tools and biomarkers are essential for improving clinical trial design and quickly enhancing potential treatments for patients.
“We are at a pivotal moment in Alzheimer’s disease research thanks in large part to advances in diagnostics available today,” says Anne White, Senior Vice President and President, Lilly Neuroscience, Eli Lilly and Company. “At Lilly, we are committed to building on this progress and removing barriers to ensure patients have broad access to advanced diagnostics to support timely, accurate Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. The tests pioneered as part of the Diagnostics Accelerator program may help researchers and doctors identify patients in the earlier stages of disease, consider available therapies, and aid in the development of innovative therapies through clinical trials — all of which has the potential to make life better for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones.”
A scientific approach called the biology of aging, which is now widely accepted in the field, is long advocated by the ADDF and is shown to be tied to Alzheimer’s disease. The disease is likely an accumulation and combination of age-related changes in the brain, like inflammation, metabolic dysfunction, diminished blood flow, and genetic alterations. The Diagnostics Accelerator will focus on developing diagnostic biomarkers for every one of these underlying causes and in turn will allow for greater funded innovative research across the world.
Precision medicine, according to Dr. Fillit, is like cancer in that it will soon enable physicians to predict which treatments and prevention strategies will work more accurately in various at-risk populations of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Precision medicine, an approach for disease treatment and prevention, considers individual variability in genes, environmental and lifestyle factors in each person.
The Diagnostics Accelerator has to date invested about $50 million in more than 40 global research projects focused on developing accessible diagnostics including blood tests, eye scans and digital technologies to detect early and very subtle changes that signal Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The next phase will include building upon these investments and providing additional resources to support commercialization of diagnostics currently in the late stages of research, including projects that have already progressed thanks to Diagnostics Accelerator funding.
Among the promising projects:
A test for microRNA biomarkers in blood plasma that can predict who will progress from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease from DiamiR.
A retinal test in development from RetiSpec that turns the eye into a “window to the brain,” detecting neurodegenerative changes through retinal imaging.
Digital technology including a mobile phone and tablet-based platform from Altoida that recently received breakthrough device designation from the FDA.