“One of the things we’re trying to figure out is, when does the Alzheimer’s really get started?” he told NBC’s Maria Shriver in January. “When would you need to treat somebody to completely avoid them getting Alzheimer’s?”
Gates and Lauder provided seed money for the diagnostics collaboration through the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), which was founded by Lauder. They’re not the only two investors in this fund — the Dolby family and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation will also contribute.
The funding will be available to scientists and clinicians globally, as long as they work in academic settings, charities, or biotechnology companies. The program, dubbed the Diagnostics Accelerator, will also invest into riskier projects, which may not have an immediate commercial return, and are therefore less likely to receive other types of funding.
Currently, Alzheimer’s diagnosis is a long and painstaking process, involving several cognitive tests, followed by a brain scan or a spinal tap, which are used to determine whether the patient is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. The process is not only lengthy, but also expensive, and in the case of a spinal tap, quite painful.
Additionally, patients don’t typically get tested for the disease until they start showing cognitive decline — and by that point, much of the damage has already been done. In a recent blog post, Gates writes:
“Research suggests Alzheimer’s starts damaging the brain more than a decade before symptoms start showing. That’s probably when we need to start treating people to have the best shot at an effective drug.”
Gates envisions a world where having an Alzheimer’s test is as simple as “getting your blood tested during your yearly physical.”