The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) has invested $6 million in six investments via its Diagnostics Accelerator initiative. Specific research awards include studies involving blood tests in various stages of development including one that could become a viable diagnostic tool for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. Yet other funded projects range from the development of ocular and genetic tests supporting the diagnosis and appropriate clinical trial design for intervention and disease monitoring for AD and related dementias.
The Diagnostics Accelerator was initiated in July 2018 with funding commitments totaling almost $50 million over three years from partners including ADDF Co-Founder Leonard A. Lauder, Bill Gates, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Dolby family, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, among others for the development of novel biomarkers for the early detection of AD and related dementias. Thus far, the organization has allocated study awards to ten researchers worldwide, representing academia, biotech and nonprofit consortium, with investments totaling nearly $10 million focused on developing blood and ocular biomarkers.
The second round of research recipients include the following:
Blood Tests in Development – Moving Closer to Clinical Practice
Henrik Zetterberg, M.D., University of Gothenburg ($3,197,896), Sweden: Dr. Zetterberg and his lab are developing a test to detect Aβ40 and Aβ42 protein fragments in blood samples in a collaboration with Roche Diagnostics. Excess amounts of these proteins aggregate to form amyloid plaques, one of the hallmark pathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease. This blood test is one of the most advanced blood tests in development for the diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease.
Rodney Pearlman, Ph.D., Bluefield Project to Cure FTD($1.2 million), United States: Dr. Pearlman and the Bluefield team will evaluate blood neurofilament light chain (NfL) levels in people that carry an inherited form of frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), but do not yet show any disease symptoms. NfL is a protein in neurons that is released when the neurons are injured. The success of this test will support more efficient clinical trials, which could lead to effective treatments for FTD.
Douglas Galasko, M.D., University of California at San Diego ($375,000), United States: Neurofibrillary tangles, consisting of the tau protein, represent one of the two major pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. This project aims to develop a test for Alzheimer’s disease by measuring tau and NfL, a protein indicative of neurodegeneration, in the blood. Dr. Galasko and his collaborators at ADx Neurosciences are developing these tests using a highly sensitive technology called single molecule immunoassay, which can detect proteins at very low concentrations in blood. These tests will pave the way for early disease diagnosis.
Genetic-based Blood Tests
Laura Ibanez, Ph.D., Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis ($281,370), United States: This project measures gene products in the blood (called cell-free ribonucleic acid (cfRNA)) associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This type of test has revolutionized prenatal screening and cancer prognosis. A set of 25 gene products identified from a small number of Alzheimer’s patients will be assessed in a larger, well characterized population to create, optimize, and evaluate a predictive disease model. This research will enable the generation of a novel, non-invasive test that can predict disease onset. This in turn will help with correct diagnosis, appropriate clinical trial design for intervention and disease monitoring.
Samuil Umansky, M.D., Ph.D., DiamiR Biosciences ($492,000), United States: DiamiR Biosciences is developing a targeted diagnostic test to measure specific microRNAs, small molecules that regulate gene expression and reflect multiple cellular processes in blood. The molecules identified by DiamiR are associated with neurodegeneration and inflammation – two integral components of Alzheimer’s disease. They have evidence that these biomarkers can indicate Alzheimer’s disease prior to symptom onset.
Retinal Imaging Technology
Eliav Shaked, M.Sc., RetiSpec ($500,000), Canada: RetiSpec is harnessing retinal hyperspectral imaging to allow for the accurate, rapid and cost-effective identification of the signs of Alzheimer’s disease years before a patient presents clinical symptoms. In a pilot human study, the non-invasive retinal imaging technology was effective in detecting small changes in biomarkers associated with the pathological signs of Alzheimer’s, including the aggregation of soluble amyloid-beta. To validate the use of the technology in patients, RetiSpec is collaborating with the Toronto Memory Program, Canada’s largest Alzheimer’s clinical trial site, and The Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center at Sheba Medical Center, Israel.
About the Diagnostics Accelerator
The Diagnostics Accelerator, created in July 2018, is a partnership of funders with funding commitments totaling nearly $50 million over three years from partners including ADDF Co-Founder Leonard A. Lauder, Bill Gates, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Dolby family, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, among others, to develop novel biomarkers for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
About the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation
Founded in 1998 by Leonard A. Lauder 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. Through the generosity of its donors, the ADDF has granted more than $130 million to fund over 600 programs for Alzheimer’s and related dementias in academic centers and biotechnology companies in 19 countries. To learn more, visit here.