News

Peek and Treat: A Pioneering Collaborative Research Project

Posted: Jul. 14, 2010

Despite advances in understanding the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, advancements in its diagnosis and treatment are limited. To address this key need, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the University of Houston(UH) have been awarded a $150,000 grant from Cure Alzheimer’s Fund to pursue innovative work.

Tjan highlights venture capital approach to research

Posted: Jul. 14, 2010

Tony Tjan, a member of our advisory board, recently wrote a blog post on the innovative field of medical research entrepreneurship. He highlights our effort to take a venture capital approach in order to improve what is currently a broken research system.

The medical research model as we know it today is broken. Why? Three words: insufficient, inefficient, and ineffective. This is both the big problem and the big opportunity for medical entrepreneurship. Today's model is insufficient because typically 1% or less of the amount spent each year on diseases goes towards cure research, with the balance going to caring for people with the disease. Alzheimer's, for example, costs our country hundreds of millions of dollars each year, yet we spend just one cent out of every $4.00 available towards a cure.

You can read the rest of this article, and other posts on the topic of entrepreneurship, at his Harvard Business Review Blog.

Economist agrees we need to invest in research!

Posted: Jun. 22, 2010

The prestigious Economist weighs in on the “pooling of drug test data” discussion (Wall Street Journal, “Drug Makers Will Share Data From Failed Alzheimer’s Trials”, June 11, 2010) and agrees with Cure Alzheimer’s Fund: the emphasis should be on research that finds the cause of the disease rather than spending billions on the development of drugs that may be addressing the wrong targets or the right targets in the wrong ways. To quote the Economist, “the problem of what causes Alzheimer’s is profound” and so far, unresolved. In fact, as the article points out, fundamental perspectives on the causes of the disease are changing right now, and to at least some extent obviating the billions spent on drugs developed from very imperfect information about the basic pathology of Alzheimer’s.

It is a very hard problem to solve, but, again as the Economist states, “it is the “R” rather than the “D” of research and development that needs to be emphasized at the moment.” We at CAF couldn’t agree more with the Economist’s conclusion that now is the worst time to be cutting back on the “R”, which, in fact, NIH is doing.  The numbers that are increasingly well known are staggering and depressing. The United States will spend roughly $170 billion on care for Alzheimer’s patients in 2010, but invest only about $480 million in research into the causes of the disease through the National Institutes of Health in 2011. Shockingly that number is DOWN from $643 million in 2006.

As the Economist summarizes, “you get what you pay for”. Unless we rebalance this equation of care spending to cure spending, the future for the roughly half of people over 85 who have the disease or will get it in the next ten years is bleak indeed.

Real progress IS being made

Posted: Jun. 18, 2010

In Response to Nicholas Wade’s NYT column, June 12, 2010:
“A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Clues”
But real progress IS being made.

 

The promised breakthroughs and cures from the Human Genome Project may have been too optimistic from a timing perspective. But Wade may be too pessimistic when he writes, “Indeed, after ten years of effort, geneticists are almost back to square one in knowing where to look.”

Not really. As others in the piece say, the Human Genome Project and the HapMap project growing out of it have been essential to a better understanding of the genetic underpinning of many common diseases.  The evidence is clearly with Eric Lander who says in the article, “Having a common scaffold on which one can put all the information has dramatically accelerated progress.”

But why no cures yet? Because in plotting the genetic map, we learn that each step taken teaches us more as well as opens more questions to be resolved. For example, researchers have found that what was commonly regarded as “junk” between pieces of DNA isn’t “junk” at all; it has functions that contribute to biological processes just as the DNA does. And one of the bigger surprises has been that knowing the common genetic variants isn’t enough to find the causes of disease. Researchers must track down the rare variants or mutations with strong biological effects on the disease.  As Wade writes, “It now seems more likely that each common disease is mostly caused by large numbers of rare variants, ones too rare to have been cataloged by the HapMap.”

Yes; this is a very important finding, and one that would have been years ahead of us without the Human Genome Project and HapMap.  And this positions us well to take the next steps to reduce the time for development of effective therapies. Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, head of the Genetics and Aging Unit at Mass General Hospital and primary investigator of the Alzheimer’s Genome Project funded exclusively by Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, says: “Having identified over 200 new Alzheimer’s candidate genes through the Alzheimer’s Genome Project, we can now find the ‘causal’ DNA variants in Alzheimer’s, then determine which biochemical pathways are broken as a result, and discover therapies to “fix what is broken” based on that information.”

Another recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that “Drug Makers Will Share Data for Failed Alzheimer’s Trials” (WSJ, June 11, 2010). Why so many failures? One major reason is that many of these drugs were developed without the knowledge of these genetic processes and their biological effects.

Yes, it takes time --- and much more money than has so far been dedicated to Alzheimer’s research --- to discover what genetics has to teach us about the basic causes of disease. But without following that trail, the cost and the failure rate will be much, much higher.

Sharing Data is Good But We Need to Better Understand Causes of the Disease

Posted: Jun. 17, 2010

The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and other publications carried an important story on June 11 indicating that “drug makers will share data from failed Alzheimer’s trials” to try to determine “what is wrong with the studies and what can be done to improve drug development.” (WSJ, Drug Makers Will Share Data From Failed Alzheimer’s Trials, June 11, 2010).

The short answer was given in that article by Ray Woosley, MD, chief executive of the Critical Path Institute: “We really believe drugs are failing because we honestly do not understand the disease.” YES! That is the truth. How can you make effective therapies when you don’t understand what causes the disease in the first place?

While pooling data and sharing resources is certainly a useful idea, an even more effective strategy would be to spend more time and money to understand the causes of the disease. Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is committed to the simple proposition that understanding the disease’s cause is the fastest path to a cure. And for Alzheimer’s, the story clearly begins with the genes. When Cure Alzheimer’s Fund was incorporated in late 2004 only four genes had been conclusively shown to modulate Alzheimer's progression. In addition, the association of three of the four genes was restricted to early onset Alzheimer’s, which accounts for fewer than 5 percent of Alzheimer’s disease patients. The fourth gene was associated with the much more prevalent late onset form of Alzheimer’s. However, this fourth gene accounted for less than 30 percent of the genetic component of late onset Alzheimer's. For more than 95 percent of Alzheimer's cases, the bulk of the contributing genetic factors remained unknown.

In 2005, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund committed to finding the remaining Alzheimer’s –associated genes, and to investigating promising novel therapies based on information learned from the first four genes. To this end, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund established and committed $4 million over 4 years to a new initiative named the Alzheimer’s Genome Project. Aided by the advent of the human genome map, the availability of new technology for gene identification and sequencing, and our researchers’ pioneering use of advanced statistical analysis we achieved what we believe is a great leap forward in the hunt for Alzheimer's causing genes. The Alzheimer’s Genome Project has identified over 200 new candidate genes in the first four-year phase.

Having the right set of targets as identified by careful and comprehensive genetic studies dramatically decreases the development time to a cure. For example, building from genetic research, investigators supported by Cure Alzheimer’s Fund have identified how aggregates of the “bad guy” Alzheimer’s protein, Abeta42, aggregate to create a hyper-toxic environment for neural synapses in the brain and how compounds originally designed to lower cholesterol may be effective in lowering Abeta42 in the brain. Most remarkably, recent research by Cure Alzheimer’s Fund supported scientists has demonstrated that the same Abeta42 that has been seen as the arch-villain in the Alzheimer’s play may in fact be part of the innate immune system of the brain, and therefore a “hero” gone bad under certain circumstances! This is paradigm-changing research.

All of which is to say that spending billions on drug development when the target of the drugs is still poorly understood is bound to result in, at a minimum, disappointment. See our article on “Why the Drugs Don’t Work” in the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund Quarterly Report for Q1, 2010 for specific information about why certain drugs have failed and what research is proving more fruitful.

In the meantime, pooling data from failed trials is certainly useful, but an even more efficient and effective strategy would be to put more attention, effort and money into understanding the basic causes of the disease.

UPI: $150,000 Alzheimer's study grant awarded

Posted: Jun. 3, 2010

Cure Alzheimer's Fund awarded the University of Texas Health Science Center and the University of Houston a $150,000 grant to fund important Alzheimer's research.

The grant will give researchers the opportunity to accelerate their use of nanotechnology and new imaging techniques to study the effects of certain compounds of the Amyloid-Beta protein.

Click on the link to read the article in full: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2010/06/03/150000-Alzheimers-study-grant-awarded/UPI-57721275586850/

CAF awards grant to UTHealth & UH for innovative research on imaging-based diagnostic and treatment

Posted: Jun. 2, 2010

Boston - (June 2, 2010) – Cure Alzheimer’s Fund recently awarded the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the University of Houston a $150,000 grant to fund innovative research on Alzheimer’s disease, which currently affects 5.3 million Americans and their families and is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly.

Tim Armour, president and CEO of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (CAF) applauded the project and noted its novel approach to the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. “The pioneering research being done at UTHealth and UH on Alzheimer’s disease is helping to better understand this devastating disease and could lead to better ways to reverse its effects and even find a cure,” he said.

The grant will allow UTHealth and UH researchers to accelerate their use of nanotechnology and new imaging techniques to study the effects of certain compounds of Amyloid-Beta, a protein that is commonly linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, on the brain. Most importantly the scientists will focus on the creation of new intravenous delivery mechanisms for compounds such as gamma secretase modulators, which are believed to have the potential to protect against the development of the debilitating disease.

“We’re developing nanocarriers designed to deliver therapeutic and imaging agents directly to the amyloid lesions,” said Ananth Annapragada, Ph.D., a lead researcher on the pre-clinical project and the Robert H. Graham Professor of Entrepreneurial Biomedical Informatics and Bioengineering at The University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston (SHIS), a part of UTHealth. “The imaging agents allow us to peek at the diseased area and the therapeutic agents allow us to treat it. Thus the nickname Peek and Treat.”

If the drug delivery system proceeds to clinical trials and proves effective, it could provide enhanced imaging in patients using Magnetic Resonance Imaging at a resolution far exceeding current capabilities. It also could be used for the targeted delivery of a variety of therapeutic agents, according to the other lead researcher, Jason Eriksen, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology at UH. “These nanocarriers allow us to deliver a nearly unlimited variety of compounds to the brain. Since we can perform high-resolution imaging of Amyloid-Beta with this technology, we will be able to determine if a drug treatment effectively hits its target, early on in the disease process.”

Armour added, “Finding a cure and better treatments for Alzheimer’s can only be achieved by gaining a better understanding of the disease. Research is where it must start, and Cure Alzheimer’s Fund remains committed to funding researchers like those at UTHealth and UH who are doing groundbreaking work that could bring us one step closer to our goal to finding a cure.”

The UTHealth research team includes Eric Ambe Tanifum, Ph.D., and Indrani Dasgupta, Ph.D., who are both postdoctoral fellows at the UT School of Health Information Sciences at Houston.

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Cure Alzheimer's FundTM is a public charity established to provide funding for targeted research into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Cure Alzheimer’s Fund supports and funds research with the highest probability of slowing, stopping or reversing Alzheimer’s disease by 2016. Since its inception in 2004, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has raised more than $15 million, investing all of it directly into research. For more information please visit http://www.curealzfund.org

New Report is Old News: Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has the Strategy and Roadmap to a Cure

Posted: May 21, 2010

Over the course of the last 5 years, all of us here at Cure Alzheimer’s Fund have been saying the same thing – Alzheimer’s is a national disaster, an encroaching tsunami that has the potential to bankrupt our entire health care system.

And, if you’ve been following the news this week, you’ve likely seen the recent Alzheimer’s Association report portraying this very same message.

Yes, we all agree – Alzheimer’s disease is a national imperative. In fact, a YEAR ago, we released our plan for a national strategy to end Alzheimer’s disease. As no other group has done, we called for a 10 year funding strategy of $5 billion per year and laid out a roadmap for exactly how that money should be spent -- because it’s not simply a fundraising battle. It’s just as important to know how to spend the resources most efficiently to find a cure. See our National Strategic Plan on our website at www.curealzfund.org.

$5 billion per year for research? In these economic times? YES.

As the just-released report says, within the next 10 years, the US government will spend $20 trillion on care for Alzheimer’s through Medicare and Medicaid.  That’s roughly 400 times what we spend on the research that will one day find the cure to this devastating disease. Until we re-balance that equation, we will NEVER change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease.

If we spend $5 billion per year for 10 years, that still doesn’t even come close to the ever-increasing cost of paying for the consequences of the disease. $50 billion vs. $20 Trillion. Which would you rather spend?

Of course we have to care for people with the disease; but we also have to dramatically increase the money we spend on research AND target that money strategically for the fastest way to a cure.  More money is one key; but more clear thinking about how to spend the money is the other imperative.

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has a plan. So far, by following our roadmap, we have supported research that has identified over 100 genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, a project the government has been working on for years. Cure Alzheimer’s Fund support has also helped validate the “oligomer” theory of Alzheimer’s pathology that shows that clumps of the Abeta peptide (oligomers) are the toxic entity that damages the synapses within the brain, not the well-known plaques.

And just recently, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund supported research has proposed a whole new paradigm for understanding Alzheimer’s pathology by pointing to the Abeta peptide, once believed to be only “junk” involved in causing Alzheimer’s disease, as actually part of the innate immune system!

Targeted research, well supported by public and private sources, is the only way we will “change the trajectory” of Alzheimer’s disease.

Thank you to those who have joined with us to support this kind of groundbreaking research, and welcome to those who join us now. Now is the time!

$21,500 Raised from Inaugural Running 4 Answers

Posted: May 13, 2010

WOW. If we could only use one word to describe the inaugural Running 4 Answers, "WOW" would have to be it.

An event that sounded like a good idea 10 months ago, turned into a very windy, but perfect morning that welcomed almost 300 runners, walkers, spectators and volunteers and raised almost $21,500 for Cure Alzheimer's Fund. Not bad for a first try!

The list of people we have to thank is long. First on that list are the people of Cure Alzheimer's Fund who provided us with tremendous support:  Katie Cutler, Mariah Baril-Dore, Laurel Lyle and of course, Tim Armour.

Special thanks need to go to our technical/artistic support, Chris Gieger of Gieger Visual Communications (www.gieger.com) and printer, John Moss of Galvanic Printing (www.galvanicprinting.com). These gentlemen donated ALL of their work to Running 4 Answers – graphic design, website, posters, flyers and brochures. The cost of this alone would have been a huge hit to our little race &nash; we are so grateful! Without the support of our families and friends, up to and including race day, we never would have had such success.

Running 4 Answers progressed from a vague concept that at times seemed impossible to an event that was not only a great race, but also raised awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.

We are already developing ideas to make Running 4 Answers 2011 bigger and better than this year. Our plans include becoming our own non-profit organization, investing some money in advertising, working with other races to get the word out, and finding sponsors that make sense for our cause...i.e., hospitals, assisted living facilities.

On a personal note, this race altered a situation that has been hell from the beginning and made it something constructive. Something that gave meaning to the pain that my family and I have felt over the past ten years. It did not change my mom's situation or cure the disease, but it’s a step in the right direction.

We will be posting updates on our website as we have them.

Thank you again for your dedication and enthusiasm, and please continue to support Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and Running 4 Answers!

-Carolyn & Barbara

Cure Alzheimer's Fund Awards Grant to University of Colorado School of Medicine

Posted: May 12, 2010

Boston – Cure Alzheimer’s Fund recently awarded Dr. Nicholas Seeds, with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, a $100,000 grant for novel research on Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 5.2 million Americans and their families and is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly.

“This research has the potential to unlock a new understanding of the causes and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Tim Armour, President and CEO of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. “It could bring us a step closer to ultimately stopping or even reversing its effects.”

The grant will allow Seeds’ lab to continue research on neuroserpin, a protease inhibitor in the brain that is a possible contributor to the onset of Alzheimer’s.  The lab’s research on mice shows that the deletion of the neuroserpin gene can lead to a reduction of Amyloid-Beta, a protein in the brain that is commonly linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and may result in restoration of normal cognitive behavior.  Most importantly, Seeds aims to identify small molecules that block neuroserpin. The goal is to create Alzheimer’s therapeutics for future patient studies.

“With university budgets stretched thin, the Fund’s support is critical in helping further this important research on this devastating disease,” said Seeds, a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at the Colorado medical school.

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has no endowment and passes funds raised directly to selected research. The Fund has no financial or intellectual property interest in the research funded, and will make known the results of all funded research as soon as possible. Over the past ten years the federal government’s investment in Alzheimer’s research and education has decreased. Since it’s inception in 2004, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has raised more than $15 million, investing all of it directly into research.

“Research is key to finding a cure and better treatments for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Armour.  “With the advances in technology over the past 10 years, great strides have been made in Alzheimer’s research and we are on the cusp of major breakthroughs. Cure Alzheimer’s Fund believes the pioneering work of the University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers and others could bring us one step closer to our goal of finding a cure.”

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About Cure Alzheimer's Fund

Cure Alzheimer's Fund™ is a 501c3 public charity whose mission is to fund research with the highest probability of slowing, stopping or reversing Alzheimer's disease. Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is characterized by a venture approach to philanthropy, which targets funding to specific research objectives. All expenses and overhead is paid for by its founders and all contributions go directly to research. The Foundation has no financial or intellectual property interest in the research funded, and will make known the results of all funded research as soon as possible. Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is a national organization with offices in Boston and Pittsburgh. For more information, visit www.curealzfund.org.

About University of Colorado School of Medicine

Faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine work to advance science and improve care. These faculty members include physicians, educators and scientists at University of Colorado Hospital, The Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, National Jewish Health, and the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Degrees offered by the School of Medicine include doctor of medicine, doctor of physical therapy, and masters of physician assistant studies. The school is located on the Anschutz Medical Campus, one of four campuses in the University of Colorado system.