Public/Private Funding of Research on Alzheimer's Disease Guides Drug Discovery

Posted: May 6, 2013

Dr. Rudolph Tanzi at Massachusetts General Hospital will lead a research project funded through a collaboration between Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (CAF) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to complete the identification of genes affecting risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) process will go beyond previously used techniques to allow researchers to understand the genetic switches controlling the Alzheimer’s genes and how they are triggered by other genes and by environmental inputs. The WGS will create a huge mass of data (terabytes of data, sometimes called “Big Data”) which must be analyzed using sophisticated bio-informatics (mathematical algorithms).

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has already committed $5.4 million and NIMH has just awarded $4 million. Additional funds to complete the project will be raised privately. Over the next several months, the study will obtain the complete genomic sequences of more than 1500 subjects in families that have Alzheimer’s. It will then compare the human genome sequences from family members with and without Alzheimer’s disease to identify precisely all of the variations in our genomic DNA that influence risk for Alzheimer’s.

“This research is searching for genetic factors that influence risk for getting the disease and affect brain pathology,” said Dr. Rudy Tanzi, professor at MGH and Harvard Medical School and leader of the WGS project. “We are taking advantage of cutting edge technology to discover exactly how our genes determine susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease. We will then use this knowledge to guide novel drug discovery efforts.”

Joining with Cure Alzheimer’s Fund to achieve this objective, the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), a part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded $4 million to the Tanzi laboratory, specifically to support the analysis of the data.  Additional funds required to complete the research within the next three years will be raised privately.

“This is a perfect example of an innovative and productive public private partnership as well as the value of leveraging private funds into a much stronger overall effort made possible with public money,” said Jeff Morby, chairman and co-founder of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. “The data from the WGS initiative will increase the speed of development of therapies, both to prevent the disease and arrest its progress. We are most grateful to the NIMH for partnering with us in this pioneering effort.”