Bill Gates invests $100M toward Alzheimer’s treatments

Billionaire Bill Gates is turning his attention toward Alzheimer’s disease—and he’s optimistic.

He believes new treatments are possible with innovative approaches and technology but acknowledges the road to discovery will be long and expensive. To that end, the Microsoft co-founder will invest $100 million of his own money.

“We need lots of scientific breakthroughs,” Gates writes on his blog. “With all of the new tools and theories in development, I believe we are at a turning point in Alzheimer’s R&D. Now is the right time to accelerate that progress before the major costs hit countries that can’t afford high-priced therapies and where exposure to the kind of budget implications of an Alzheimer’s epidemic could bankrupt health systems.”

He pledged $50 million toward the UK-based Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF), a private-public venture capital fund focused on Alzheimer’s treatments. Launched in 2015, the DDF is supported by pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Biogen Idec as well as the UK government. The VC fund has already invested in 12 UK and U.S.-based startup companies investigating potential ways to stop or reverse the biological processes that lead to dementia.

He will also invest $50 million in yet to be identified startup ventures working on less mainstream approaches for Alzheimer’s treatments.

This is the first time Gates has focused his attention on a solution for a noncommunicable disease. The investments are independent of his philanthropic work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are a departure from the foundation’s focus on infectious diseases in developing countries, such as HIV, malaria and polio.

He writes in his blog that Alzheimer’s is a disease he knows personally, as men in his family have suffered from the disease. He told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta anything that would cause his mind to deteriorate is one of his greatest fears, but his own experiences aren’t his sole motivation.

“We’ve seen scientific innovation turn once-guaranteed killers like HIV into chronic illnesses that can be held in check with medication,” Gates writes. “I believe we can do the same (or better) with Alzheimer’s.”

Gates spent the past year talking with researchers, academic, funders and industry experts to learn about the disease and how to push progress forward. Specifically, he notes a need to better understand how Alzheimer’s unfolds, detect and diagnose the disease earlier, more approaches to prevent or slow disease progression, speed up and increase clinical trial enrollment and use data better. He told Reuters the last area is one where he hopes to add value.

In addition to these investments, Gates told Reuters he would like to award a grant to build a global dementia platform to make it easier for researchers to use data to look for patterns and possibly identify new pathways for treatment.

The Alzheimer’s Association issued a statement commending Gates for “digging in and joining the cause” and sharing his family’s experiences to advance the public conversation about dementia.


Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia