Embracing biotech, Nestlé recruits AC Immune for an Alzheimer's project

Global giant Nestlé, newly focused on the intersection of nutrition and healthcare, has partnered with Swiss biotech AC Immune in hopes of finding a way to detect Alzheimer's disease in its early stages.

Under the agreement, AC Immune will bring its expertise in the disease to a Nestlé-backed project focused on developing a minimally invasive diagnostic test. Alongside Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences' Prometheus Laboratories, AC Immune will help research a way to track tau proteins, among the biological markers thought to indicate the onset of Alzheimer's.

Patients in the beginning stages of disease progression have in the past responded better to investigational therapies than those with advanced Alzheimer's, and thus a test that can diagnose them early could be key to the development of effective drugs. The field of Alzheimer's R&D has long been beset by late-stage failures, and many in the industry believe patient selection remains a major hurdle.

AC Immune is well versed in tau biology, working with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) on a vaccine that targets the protein and with Roche's ($RHHBY) Genentech subsidiary on an early-stage tau antibody. The company is also collaborating with Genentech on a late-stage Alzheimer's treatment that blocks amyloid beta, another bodily buildup thought to contribute to Alzheimer's damaging effects on cognition.

For Nestlé, the collaboration is the latest expansion of the Swiss conglomerate's growing life sciences operation. Launched in 2011, the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences has been investing in research projects that bridge the worlds of nutrition and therapeutic development. The company invested $65 million into Seres Therapeutics ($MCRB) this year to support the biotech's efforts in microbiomic medicine, and Nestlé has entered into a wide-ranging partnership with venture capital firm Flagship Ventures in hopes of spotlighting some early-stage startups at work in complementary spaces.

- read the statement (PDF)