Bill Gates and his wife Melinda are already well known for doing charity work through their foundation and for donating enormous sums of money, such as the $4.6 billion in Microsoft shares donated this August. Now the Gates are putting another $100 million toward a very specific and pressing concern: curing Alzheimer’s disease.
“Any type of treatment would be a huge advance from where we are today […but] the long-term goal has got to be cure,” Bill Gates told CNN, later explaining how the disease hits home for him, as it does for many of us. “Several of the men in my family have this disease. And so, you know, I’ve seen how tough it is. That’s not my sole motivation, but it certainly drew me in.”
In an announcement on his blog, Gates said, “This fact — that people are living longer than ever before — should always be a wonderful thing. But what happens when it’s not?” From there, he points out that people who live into their mid-80s have a 50% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and, in America, it’s the sixth leading cause of death as well as “the only cause of death in the top 10 without any meaningful treatments that becomes more prevalent each year.” People with Alzheimer’s also spend 500% more annually in out-of-pocket health care costs than a person without any form of neurodegeneration.
We’ve seen scientific innovation turn once-guaranteed killers like HIV into chronic illnesses that can be held in check with medication. I believe we can do the same (or better) with Alzheimer’s.
With an estimated 47 million people worldwide with the disease, discovering better diagnostic tests, treatments, and even cures should be a high priority. Right now, and estimated 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and — with the current limited treatment options — that number is expected to reach 16 million Americans by 2050.
Gates identified five areas in which we need to make progress:
- Understanding the disease’s underlying causes and biology (Is it related to diet, for example.)
- Better early detection (Some progress has been made lately with DNA and blood biomarker testing.)
- More treatments to stop its progress (Relevant research is still ongoing with Rapamycin, Aducanumab, snake venom, and even marijuana and a possible vaccine, for example.)
- Easier enrollment in clinical trials
- Better use of available data
Half of the $100 million is going to the Dementia Discovery Fund, which uses venture capital to support startups that are researching less common methods to treat dementia. The other $50 million will go to other startups researching Alzheimer’s.