Billionaire Bill Gates and Estée Lauder Cos chairman emeritus Leonard Lauder last week said they will award $30 million over three years to encourage development of new tests for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. For Microsoft co-founder Gates, launch of the Diagnostics Accelerator program follows an announcement in November of a personal investment of $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund aimed at bringing together industry and government to seek treatments for the brain-wasting disease.
The effort, Gates said, was fueled in part by his personal experience with family members struggling with Alzheimer’s. Gates and Lauder will provide seed money for the diagnostics collaboration through the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), which was founded by Lauder. They will be joined by other philanthropists, including the Dolby family and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation.
Funding provided through the initiative will be open to scientists and clinicians globally working in academic settings, charities and biotechnology companies. As a philanthropy vehicle, the ADDF Diagnostics Accelerator venture will invest in riskier projects that may not have immediate commercial return, the group said in a statement.
The goal, Gates says in a Gates Notes blog post, is to push developments of a “real product for real patients ” by the medical community. The project will solicit and then fund the most promising ideas for developing a test for Alzheimer’s, whether that be in the form of a blood test, a retinal eye scan, a urine or saliva test or even some other innovative way of detecting the signs of the disease. “Imagine a world where diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is as simple as getting your blood tested during your annual physical,” Gates writes, noting that current methods, including the scans and tests of spinal fluid, can be both invasive and expensive (and many are not covered by insurance).