Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, announced that he will invest $100 million in a venture capital fund and several start-ups working to fight dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
According to CNN, Alzheimer's—the most common form of dementia—affects more than five million U.S. residents, costing an estimated $259 billion per year. There is currently no treatment for the disease, CNN reports, and if that continues, the number of U.S. residents affected by the disease is expected to increase to 16 million by 2050, at a cost of more than $1 trillion per year.
Gates said he decided to invest in Alzheimer's, and dementia more broadly, for both personal reasons and public health reasons. He said research into addressing and treating the disease has "gone slower than we all would have hoped," adding, "I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity. ... It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person [whom] you knew."
After spending a year speaking with experts in the field, Gates said he identified five primary areas of need:
- Identifying and diagnosing Alzheimer's earlier;
- Easing the process of participating in clinical trials;
- Investigating as many approaches as possible to fight the disease;
- Learning more about how the disease progresses; and
- Better utilizing data.
"My background at Microsoft and my (Gates) Foundation background say to me that a data-driven contribution might be an area where I can help add some value," Gates said.
Details of the investment
Gates said he will invest $50 million into the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund aimed at discovering treatments for various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. The fund, established in 2015, is a public-private partnership that includes the United Kingdom government and several drugmakers, such as:
- Biogen Idec;
- Eli Lilly;
- Johnson & Johnson; and
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According to Reuters, the drugmakers have already invested in at least nine different start-up companies that are researching how to block or reverse the processes that lead to dementia.
Gates said he plans to invest another $50 million in start-up companies that are working on "less mainstream" ways of treating various forms of dementia. However, Gates said he has not yet selected those organizations.
In addition, Gates said he wants to award a grant to build a global dementia data platform to help researchers identify patterns related to the disease and find possible treatment methods.
A personal investment
Gates said of his investments, "It'll take probably 10 years before new theories are tried enough times to give them a high chance of success. So it's very hard to hazard a guess (when an effective drug might be developed)." He added, "I hope that in the next 10 years that we have some powerful drugs, but it's possible that won't be achieved."
Separately, Jeremy Hughes, the CEO of the Alzheimer's Society, said Gates' "significant personal investment" is welcome and would not only help progress towards a cure for dementia, but help reduce the stigma around it. "With Bill Gates now joining all those already united against dementia, there is new hope for advances in the care and cure of dementia," he said (Kelland, Reuters, 11/13; Gupta, CNN, 11/13).
How to deliver cost-effective Alzheimer's care
Over 5.3 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and related memory disorders and the Alzheimer’s Association predicts this number to triple to 13.8 million by 2050.
To learn more about how leading memory disorders programs are allocating their resources, download our brief Building a Financially Successful Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Program.