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Vol. LXVII, No. 9
April 24, 2015

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Alzheimer’s Summit Seeks to Transform Drug Discovery, Prevention

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins addresses recent summit on Alzheimer’s disease.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins addresses recent summit on Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit 2015: Path to Treatment and Prevention drew more than 500 leading researchers and advocates with a shared goal—to develop a scientific agenda that speeds the development of effective therapies to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Held recently on campus and hosted by NIA, the conference focused on new research models and intensifying public-private collaborations to identify and speed the delivery of promising therapeutic targets.

“I think we’ve entered a new era in Alzheimer’s research—there are new models of collaboration and data sharing, there are fantastic advances scientifically,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins. He added that researchers are now “laying out pathways that must be involved in this disease that we did not previously know about that might very well turn out to be actionable.”

The program was organized around six themes:

  • The complex biology of Alzheimer’s—This session addressed key questions related to understanding the complexity of AD such as the role of cerebral microvasculature and inflammation as well as approaches needed to identify and quantify disease trajectories and risk and ways to harness the power of big data to understand complexity.

  • Transforming AD therapy development—This session featured new approaches to target biomarker discovery for AD as well as clinical trial design and highlighted examples of successful use of systems-based, data-driven approaches to drug repositioning and combination therapy development.

  • New approaches to prevention—Reducing the risk and/or delaying disease onset will have tremendous impact on the socioeconomic burden of AD. This session reviewed our current understanding of disease progression and featured advances in genetics, epigenetics, epidemiology and cognitive/behavioral sciences that can inform prevention strategies.

  • Innovative monitoring, assessment and care—Advances in technology offer unprecedented opportunities to improve our ability to assess/monitor the well-being of patients and are a means to optimize delivery of care. This session focused on identifying the needs and opportunities to innovate disease monitoring, research gaps in integrating care and technologies that enable in-place monitoring and help alleviate burden of care.

  • Empowering participants, engaging citizens in research—The acceleration of AD therapy development in large part depends on participant/citizen awareness and engagement. This session addressed issues of recruitment, health disparities and citizen participation in innovating patient consent, data sharing and trial design.

  • Partnerships for open innovation—This session highlighted a number of programs and public-private partnerships promoting the open source philosophy in biomedical research and drug development and discussed how these can be used to accelerate AD therapy development.

Research recommendations resulting from the meeting are expected to be made public this spring. They will inform research goals and milestones to be included in this year’s update to the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, which outlines the nation’s path to improvements in Alzheimer’s and related dementias research, care and services.

Collins urged summit participants to continue the momentum begun in 2012, when the first “blueprint” for Alzheimer’s research was created under the plan.

“Our common purpose remains the same—to develop effective interventions by 2025,” he said.

It’s become clear, Collins added, that no one government agency, university, company or nonprofit alone can beat Alzheimer’s.

“We can work more effectively together than separately,” he said.

He pointed to the Accelerating Medicines Partnership, a groundbreaking NIH-led venture that brings together industry, academia, advocacy groups and government agencies, as a key example, aimed at accelerating drug development in several areas, including AD.

Even as researchers pursue promising targets in translation and clinical trials, NIA director Dr. Richard Hodes said it is imperative to look for new research opportunities and collaborations. To support these efforts, NIA and the Alzheimer’s Association developed the International Alzheimer’s Disease Research Portfolio (IADRP), a database of global Alzheimer’s research, as a powerful planning tool for public and private funders.

“At present, IADRP has over 4,000 research projects and 30 funding agencies in the U.S. and globally,” he said. “It provides an opportunity to look at research categorized through a three-layer-deep ontology, to understand what is being supported and what initiatives are happening, and in doing so, to gain perspective on where there are gaps and where new initiatives are required.”

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