The appeal launches next week: you can make an early donation here
DDF is an unusual commercial partnership launched in October 2015 to find new dementia treatments by the UK government, seven international drug companies and the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK — the beneficiary of this year’s FT Seasonal Appeal which will be launched next week. The investment by Mr Gates takes DDF past its original target of raising £130m and more investors are expected to sign up soon.
The fund has invested in 12 start-up companies and projects investigating novel ways to stop or reverse the complex biological processes that lead to dementia. Its strategy is to move beyond the “amyloid hypothesis” — the idea that Alzheimer’s can be treated by attacking the sticky plaques of beta amyloid protein that build up in patients’ brains. The pharmaceuticals industry has lost billions of dollars in failed development of drugs designed to target amyloid. There is still no treatment that affects the underlying progression of the disease.
Mr Gates has spent a year studying the science of dementia, including briefings with the world’s leading experts on the disease. “When he came in to see us, it was like talking to a professional neuroscientist,” said Kate Bingham, managing partner of SV Health, the venture fund that runs DDF. “We had deep scientific discussions exploring the biology of microglia and mitochondria.”
Microglia are specialist immune cells with a garbage-collecting role in the brain. Mitochondria are the power plants within all cells, providing energy. Failure of either is implicated in dementia.
Several of the 12 companies funded by DDF, mainly in the US and UK, are focusing on restoring the brain’s immune system or mitochondrial function. DDF’s first investment, California-based Alector, last month announced a $225m deal with AbbVie, the US pharmaceutical group, to develop immunotherapies for Alzheimer’s.
“I first became interested in Alzheimer’s because of its costs, both emotional and human, to families and healthcare systems,” Mr Gates said. “Some of the men in my family [had Alzheimer’s],” he added. “It is not the primary reason for my interest but it has highlighted what a tragedy it is.”