The Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) announced its second round of diagnostics research awards for the year, with a total of $6 million in new funding for blood tests, eye exams and other tools.
The ADDF’s Diagnostics Accelerator initiative has been backed by some of the richest people in the world, including Bill Gates, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos and foundation co-founder Leonard Lauder, since it launched in 2018. Its goal is to develop novel biomarkers and cheaper, scalable tests for earlier detection of the disease and its related dementias.
The latest six funded projects join a group of four awardees from earlier this year, which included companies and academic researchers focused on liquid biopsies and retinal scans. This year saw a total of $10 million in investments slated for 10 “venture philanthropy” projects; the accelerator as a whole plans to award $50 million over a three-year period.
"These awards represent a true collaboration among renown clinicians, who are directly involved with patients and understand the disease, scientists who are developing the tests, and diagnostics companies that understand the regulatory pathways—driving research and product development,” said Howard Fillit, ADDF’s founding executive director and chief science officer.
"Our goal is to accelerate the development of early and more accurate diagnostic tests, as well as tests that can accelerate and improve the rigor of clinical drug development," Fillit added. "Ultimately, these tests will represent the beginning of precision medicine for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias."
Five of the latest awards focus on blood tests. Henrik Zetterberg and his lab at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden received $3.2 million to develop a test to detect Aβ40 and Aβ42 protein fragments in blood samples, through a collaboration with Roche Diagnostics. In high amounts, these proteins cluster to form amyloid plaques.
The Bluefield Project to Cure Frontotemporal Degeneration, and its president, Rodney Pearlman, were awarded $1.2 million to evaluate levels of neurofilament light chain proteins in the blood of people who’ve inherited a form of the disease, but have yet to show symptoms in clinical trials. Those types of proteins are released by neurons when they are injured.
Douglas Galasko and his collaborative project between the University of California, San Diego and ADx Neurosciences were given $375,000 to explore tangles of tau proteins in the brain and to develop a single molecule immunoassay test to measure low concentrations of tau and neurofilament light chain proteins in the blood.
Two of the blood tests focus on a person’s genetics: Laura Ibanez at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis received $281,000 to measure circulating cell-free RNA associated with Alzheimer's disease, similar to prenatal screening and cancer tests. A study will evaluate 25 genes with the goal of developing a predictive model of the disease’s onset.
Meanwhile, DiamiR Biosciences and co-founder Samuil Umansky were awarded $492,000 to develop a targeted microRNA diagnostic for molecular biomarkers associated with neurodegeneration and inflammation.
Finally, Canada’s RetiSpec and CEO Eliav Shaked were granted $500,000 to make hyperspectral retinal imaging into an accurate and cost-effective test capable of identifying the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
In a pilot study, the technology detected small changes in the eye, including the aggregation of soluble amyloid-beta proteins. RetiSpec is working with the Toronto Memory Program, an Alzheimer's clinical trial site, and The Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center at Sheba Medical Center in Israel to validate its use.
The Diagnostics Accelerator previously requested proposals for digital tests and biomarkers earlier this year and expects to announce its first batch of winners in that category in the first quarter of 2020.