Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, with symptoms that range from mild short-term memory loss to being unable to manage basic self-care functions or remember one’s own life. It is incurable, and affects more than 1 in 20 people over the age of 65, worldwide.
Bill Gates, billionaire and philanthropist, says that the disease is common in his family. As he turned 62 this year, thoughts of Alzheimer’s may be pressing in on him. But even if he weren’t personally at risk, medical research is a cause he’s supported before.
Gates will be donating $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a fund to support industry and government research into treatments for the disease. This will be a personal donation, not made via Gates’ Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“It’s a huge problem, a growing problem, and the scale of the tragedy—even for the people who stay alive—is very high,” Gates said. It is arguably the most expensive disease in the developed world, with most affected needing round-the-clock care for years in their decline.
The Dementia Discovery Fund includes drugmakers like GlaxoSmithKine, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Biogen Idec, and the government of the United Kingdom.
In addition to the initial donation, Gates has pledged $50 million to medical startups that are pursuing “less mainstream” approaches to the disease. He has not yet identified any of these startups.
He expects progress to be slow, predicting it to take 10 years or more before solid treatments are developed from his donations. He wants focus to be extended in five areas: disease progression, early diagnoses, multiple approach treatments, protocols around clinical trials involving those with dementia, and collaborating on medical research between for-profit companies.
The effects of his generosity will likely outlive him, but rest assured, the impact of his donations will never be forgotten.
*Photo courtesy of OnInnovation via Flickr Creative Commons.