RetiSpec is developing a retinal test that turns the eye into a “window to the brain,” detecting neurodegenerative changes through retinal imaging. Photo: RetiSpec
• Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation launches second phase of its Diagnostics Accelerator program, doubling efforts to accelerate promising diagnostics including blood tests, eye scans and digital tools
• Expanded roster of funders and partners, including NFL Players Association, Eli Lilly & Company, Biogen and Shanahan Family Foundation, reflects urgent need to develop more accessible, non-invasive tools to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease early
• Diagnostic tools and biomarkers are crucial to developing more effective therapies for patients
The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) announces the second phase of its Diagnostics Accelerator with new philanthropic partners and an additional $50 million in financial commitments, bringing the total capital to $100 million earmarked to speed development of new and innovative tests for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
Spurred by the progress since the Diagnostics Accelerator was launched in 2018, new funders include the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), Eli Lilly & Company, Biogen and the Shanahan Family Foundation. These organizations have joined inaugural funders Leonard A. Lauder, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and the Dolby Family, who have furthered their support to finance bold ideas for easier, more accurate and accessible tools for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Other initial funders included MacKenzie Scott, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration.
“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,” says Niranjan Bose, Managing Director, Health & Life Sciences at Gates Ventures. “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.”
The mission of the Diagnostics Accelerator is critical for the more than six million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, half of whom are undiagnosed. This number is expected to triple by 2060. It is well documented that changes in the brain begin a decade or more before the disease becomes apparent, meaning tens of millions of Americans are symptom-free, but living with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s.
“The day will soon come when there will be blood tests, eye scans and smart phone apps to diagnose Alzheimer’s, just as simple tests can diagnose hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol,” says 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,” says 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 advancing 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.”
Biomarkers are key to drug development and precision medicine
Alzheimer’s disease is tied to the biology of aging, a scientific approach long advocated by the ADDF and now widely accepted in the field. The disease is likely caused by a combination of age-related changes in the brain, such as inflammation, metabolic dysfunction, diminished blood flow, and genetic alterations. The Diagnostics Accelerator focuses on developing diagnostic biomarkers for every one of these underlying causes, casting a wide net to fund innovative research across the world.
According to Dr. Fillit, like with cancer, precision medicine will someday enable physicians to predict which treatment and prevention strategies will work more accurately in different at-risk populations of people who have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Precision medicine is an approach for disease treatments and prevention that considers individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person.
Many diagnostic tools being investigated
To date, the Diagnostics Accelerator has invested approximately $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 build upon these investments and provide additional resources to support commercialization of diagnostics that are currently in late-stage 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.
ABOUT THE ALZHEIMER’S DRUG DISCOVERY FOUNDATION
Founded in 1998 by Leonard A. and Ronald S. Lauder, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation is dedicated to rapidly accelerating the discovery of drugs to prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s disease. The ADDF is the only public charity solely focused on funding the development of drugs for Alzheimer’s, employing a venture philanthropy model to support research in academia and the biotech industry. The ADDF’s leadership and contributions to the field have played a pivotal role in bringing the first Alzheimer’s PET scan (Amyvid™) and blood test (PrecivityAD™) to market, as well as fueling the current robust and diverse drug pipeline. Through the generosity of its donors, the ADDF has awarded more than $209 million to fund over 690 Alzheimer’s drug discovery programs, biomarker programs and clinical trials in 19 countries. To learn more, please visit: http://www.alzdiscovery.org/.