GlaxoSmithKline and J&J back a $100M new Alzheimer's R&D project

Johnson & Johnson Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and a group of industry titans are helping kick off a U.K. government-led fund designed to spotlight new approaches to dementia and Alzheimer's disease, investing in a $100 million effort to bankroll discovery work around the world.

The money will help launch the Global Dementia Discovery Fund, which aims to unite industry, government and nonprofits in pursuit of novel medicines. GSK is putting up $25 million to get the project rolling, while J&J is investing $10 million and the U.K. government is adding in about $22 million. Biogen Idec ($BIIB), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Pfizer ($PFE) are on board to make up the difference.

The fund is an outgrowth of last year's G8 Dementia Summit, hosted by the U.K., in which some of the world's most powerful nations banded together to focus on the growing scourge of neurodegeneration around the globe. That initiative led to a slew of research programs focused on finding new biomarkers, developing novel imaging techniques and improving data analytics, and the discovery project is the latest facet of the effort.

The goal of the Global Dementia Discovery Fund is to spur translational research that will take early concepts from the lab to the proof-of-concept stage and, eventually, to patients, J&J Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said. Step one is appointing a scientific advisory board from each of the founding organizations, a group that will then scour the world's research community for promising projects to support. And any proceeds from the sale or licensing of such programs will go right back into the fund to help progress the next idea.

Alzheimer's research has been among the most perilous pursuits in recent biopharma history, and J&J, whose bapineuzumab blew up in late-stage trials, knows as well as anyone. But Stoffels is steadfast in his belief that the field needs as many irons in the fire as possible, with multiple companies and institutions interrogating every possible pathway toward treating the disease. And the Global Dementia Discovery Fund will take a similarly agnostic approach to R&D, Stoffels said, looking to fan out across neurodegenerative disease without prejudice.

"That's the approach you need to take," he said. "Increasing the diversity of people working and increasing the diverse thinking with different approaches--and you don't do that when you constrain yourself."

And, as GSK R&D chief Patrick Vallance notes, the fund is also a smart way of distributing the substantial financial risks in pursuing dementia and Alzheimer's. Venture funding for neurodegeneration research is often hard to come by for early-stage projects, as that oft-cited history of failure and murky returns on investment tend to scare off investors. Bringing together a group of deeply experienced and deep-pocketed partners could help change the narrative, Vallance said in a statement.

As for the U.K. government, Prime Minister David Cameron said moving the needle in dementia R&D requires "a bold and determined global effort to invest in medical research," and the fund is a major step forward.

Dementia affects about 44 million people around the world, according to the group, and that figure is expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050.

- read GSK's release
- here's J&J's announcement
- and the U.K.'s note