Bill Gates’ New Investment Seeks to Revolutionize Alzheimer’s Testing

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has recently announced his investment into a fund dedicated to Alzheimer’s research. Gates, alongside fellow billionaire Leonard Lauder, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, the Dolby family, and other donors have committed over $30 million to Diagnostics Accelerator. The fund’s Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) project aims to develop Alzheimer’s testing that detects the disease earlier and more effectively.

Gates wrote in his blog that his hope is that the investment “builds a bridge from academic research to a reliable, affordable, and accessible diagnostic.” Claiming that current diagnostic methods for Alzheimer’s are both invasive and expensive, highlighting the lack of insurance reimbursement for current Alzheimer’s testing. He notes that the current PET scan and spinal tap to assess Alzheimer’s is fairly accurate, but the only true diagnosis of the disease is “through an autopsy after death.”

The second shortcoming he acknowledges is that most individuals are not tested for Alzheimer’s disease until they display impaired cognition, despite current evidence showing that brain damage is likely to begin 15 to 20 years before symptoms surface. Most patients with Alzheimer’s begin displaying symptoms at age 70, however those with early-onset Alzheimer’s may present symptoms before age 65. The disease is reported as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the only top 10 cause of death that cannot be treated or slowed.

Gates praises the fund for being a venture philanthropy vehicle, claiming it is the middle ground between government or charitable organization investments and venture capital. The former generates “cutting-edge research” but does not always yield a usable product being that no party stands to profit. The latter “is more likely to develop a test that will actually reach patients, but its financial model favors projects that will earn big returns for investors.” Gates claims that the venture philanthropy vehicle “incentivizes a bold, risk-taking approach to research with an end goal of a real product for real patients.”

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Diagnostics Accelerator will begin their efforts by funding groups with preliminary data to push the research to proof of principle studies, an act that can cost up to $500,000. The fund is also looking into funding clinical trials on biomarkers, which can incur a $3 million cost. Gates is very optimistic about Diagnostic Accelerator’s ability to revolutionize Alzheimer’s testing. “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.”

Read Additional Analysis at Time here.

Sources: GatesNotes, Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, Fortune, CNN, Forbes