Last updated: November 18, 2017 at 13:02 pm
Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is to invest $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that brings together industry and government to seek treatments for the brain-wasting disease.
The investment – a personal one and not part of Gates’ philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – will be followed by another $50 million in start-up ventures working in Alzheimer’s research, Gates said.
With rapidly rising numbers of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the disease is taking a growing emotional and financial toll as people live longer, Gates told the news agency Reuters.
“It’s a huge problem, a growing problem, and the scale of the tragedy – even for the people who stay alive – is very high,” he said.
Despite decades of scientific research, there is no treatment that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Current drugs can only ease some of the symptoms.
Gates said, however, that with focused and well-funded innovation, he’s “optimistic” treatments can be found, even if they might be more than a decade away.
“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).
“I hope that in the next 10 years that we have some powerful drugs, but it’s possible that won’t be achieved.”
Dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common form, affects close to 50 million people worldwide and is expected to affect more than 131 million by 2050, according to the non-profit campaign group Alzheimer´s Disease International.
The Dementia Discovery Fund, which was launched in 2015 and involves drugmakers GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Biogen Idec as well as the UK government, has already invested in at least nine start-up companies investigating potential ways to stop or reverse the biological processes that lead to dementia.
Gates said the additional $50 million would be put into start-ups working on some “less mainstream” approaches to the disease, but said he had not yet identified these companies.