R&D, Venture Capital

Bill Gates has a $100M and a 5-point strategy to end 15 years of failure in Alzheimer’s R&D

Bill Gates is going after Alzheimer’s.

The software billionaire is investing $50 million of his own money — not from the Gates Foundation — into the industry/government backed Dementia Discovery Fund, which set out a couple of years ago to back some translational work on new approaches to the disease. And he tells Reuters that he’s earmarked $50 million more to back new companies on his own that have the potential to tackle some fresh approaches to a disease that has defeated virtually everything thrown at it in the last 15 years.

Most of the big Phase IIIs have looked to eliminate two possible causes of Alzheimer’s — amyloid beta and tau — in a crude attempt to bend the curve of the disease. But all the pivotal work by Eli Lilly, J&J, Merck and others has failed badly over the years.

Gates wants to go in some new directions.

In an in-depth blog post discussing his investment in the fund, which is managed by SV Life Sciences, Gates outlined his own 5-part strategy to taking a fresh approach. His thoughts:

  • We are woefully ignorant of how this disease develops and what may be driving it. Why are blacks and Latinos more likely to develop Alzheimer’s? No one knows. So it’s time to go back and do the basic research to study causes and biology.
  • Let’s develop a reliable way — perhaps a blood test — to diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier. The only sure-fire way to do it now is through an autopsy, which has some obvious limitations in terms of mounting clinical studies.
  • Wouldn’t it be great if tau and amyloid beta worked as a target? (Gates is nothing if not supportive.) Yes, but he wants to fund some new ideas.
  • “If we could develop a process to pre-qualify participants and create efficient registries,” Gates writes, “we could start new trials more quickly.”
  • Compile all the data out there in one platform and let researchers explore it for new clues to developing drugs and diagnostics. Not surprisingly for the Microsoft founder, that’s Gates’ sweet spot and where he might focus much of his attention.

“My background at Microsoft and my (Gates) Foundation background say to me that a data-driven contribution might be an area where I can help add some value,” he told Reuters.

Gates is in it for the long haul. He expects it could quite likely be a decade or more before something substantial comes out of this all. And as a result it makes more sense to invest his own money rather than the foundation’s. He notes:

I’m making this investment on my own, not through the foundation. The first Alzheimer’s treatments might not come to fruition for another decade or more, and they will be very expensive at first. Once that day comes, our foundation might look at how we can expand access in poor countries.

Bill Gates has one of those legendary tech reputations all biotechs love to be associated with. And Gates-backed biotechs have that extra luster that opens doors, raises cash and gets the attention of the major players. The Alzheimer’s R&D groups he will back over the coming years have a lot more to gain than his money.

Image: Bill Gates. WEC

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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