Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation, announced that he is investing $100 million toward Alzheimer’s disease research. Half of that will go to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital effort that includes philanthropic, government and pharmaceutical partners.
Gates says that he is hoping to fund innovative ideas for treatments that aren’t currently being tested by the pharmaceutical industry. “From a societal point of view, we need huge risk-taking on this one,” he tells TIME.
Recent trials of promising drugs have been disappointing. Drugs aimed at dissolving amyloid plaques that can build up in the brain and strangle neurons have failed to reduce or delay symptoms in people with mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer’s disease. Other trials are ongoing and expected to release results in coming years, but Gates says it makes sense to have other candidates ready to push into advanced testing in order to keep the pipeline robust. That’s where he hopes his contribution can help. “This is a big enough problem that we should fund those companies to be ready to go in a four- to five-year period,” he says. “Like many diseases, the chances that we may need multiple drugs to get at different stages of the disease fully seems very likely.”
Gates points out a few areas where he hopes his investment can help, from coordinating and analyzing the massive amounts of data being collected on people with Alzheimer’s — including those in the many trials of drug treatments — to better understanding new areas of research, such as how the immune system affects the disease. Currently, more than five million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, and experts say that number could balloon to 16 million by 2050 and cost more than $1 billion to treat if new treatments aren’t developed.