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United front against frontotemporal degeneration
NEW YORK—The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) Diagnostics Accelerator Initiative, together with the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (AFTD), will commit $5 million to support new projects targeting the development of biomarkers for frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), the most common dementia for people under 60. While recent science has shown beta-amyloid and tau biomarkers are highly accurate diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s disease, there are no currently recognized biomarkers for FTD.
“In order to develop treatments for dementia, we need to be able to diagnose it as early as possible and, just as important, determine specifically what type of dementia we’re dealing with,” said Dr. Howard Fillit, ADDF founding executive director and chief science officer. “That requires biomarkers that are both sensitive and specific, and investing in FTD biomarkers will be an important way to advance the science for all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.”
There remains a clear and pressing need for inexpensive and minimally invasive biomarker tests to more easily and accurately screen and identify patients at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), before the onset of irreversible injury and associated symptoms. Clinical biomarkers also are needed to monitor progression of the disease and assess response to treatments as they become available. New research will help accurately diagnose and track the progression of FTD and determine when a promising biomarker might help distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease, FTD or other forms of dementia.
“This investment builds on a long-established partnership. [Our] history of collaboration began in 2007, with the establishment of a program to accelerate FTD drug discovery. Collaborative efforts between the two organizations expanded in 2016, when generous donations made possible the establishment of a $10 million TreatFTD initiative to support clinical trials testing novel or repurposed drugs for FTD disorders,” said AFTD CEO Susan L-J Dickinson. “Early and accurate diagnosis is the key to any research gains for those who suffer from dementia— to effective participation in clinical trials, the development of therapeutics and, down the road, a cure.”
Launched in 2018, the Diagnostics Accelerator is a partnership of a broad array of funders focused on identifying and developing affordable and accessible biomarkers to diagnose AD and related dementias, and to advance the development of more targeted treatments. By awarding research grants and facilitating access to consultations with industry experts, the initiative intends to bring these and other validated and minimally invasive biomarkers into the clinic. Early research targets may include inflammation, vascular injury, synaptic dysfunction and oxidative stress, among others.
“In Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, biomarkers are most often tests of bodily fluids, including blood or cerebral spinal fluid, and neuroimaging scans such as PET and MRI,” explained Fillit. “While FTD is a rare disease, it’s the most common dementia for adults younger than 60 years old, and there are different forms of the condition. It’s important to have biomarkers, such as blood tests, to make a definitive diagnosis as early as possible, to determine exactly what type of dementia we’re dealing with as we pursue treatments. Better tools for early detection are a crucial step in the search for a cure for both conditions.”
The Diagnostics Accelerator began through an initial funding commitment from philanthropists Bill Gates, ADDF co-founder Leonard Lauder, the Dolby family, and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, who all share a commitment to combating the rising burden of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The fund is a collaborative effort which will invest more than $35 million to back promising cutting-edge research that may not have a guaranteed immediate commercial return. It will strike a balance between taking more risks than traditional venture capital funds and being more focused on developing real products for the marketplace than basic research funded by governments or charitable organizations.
Early applicants for funding hope to explore peripheral biomarkers such as blood, saliva, urine and retina tests. Proposals addressing a range of potential clinical uses were indicated to be of interest, especially tests for early screening and diagnosis, clinical trial enrichment, quantification of patient responses to therapeutics or prediction of conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.
“The Diagnostics Accelerator brings together philanthropic capital with a venture mindset to advance bold new ideas for easier and more accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” commented Fillit. “Today that means investing more than $35 million in the development of novel biomarkers for early, effective detection of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. We anticipate that the scope of this initiative could grow to more than $50 million with the addition of new venture partners.”