The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation made 5 new investments through its Diagnostics Accelerator initiative, through which it has $50 million in commitments from leading scientific philanthropists such as Leonard A. Lauder, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and MacKenzie Bezos.
Howard Fillit, MD
At the end of April 2020, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) announced that it had made 5 new investments through its Diagnostics Accelerator initiative, through which it has $50 million in commitments from leading scientific philanthropists, to help develop a technology-based approach to the early detection of memory impairment and decline.
One of those investments included an award up to $1.3 million to Cogstate Ltd. to support the development of a mobile app for early detection of memory problems, in a project led by researcher Chris Edgar, PhD, to adapt the International Shopping List test for use on smartphones and tablets. Additionally, the ADDF also announced a new partnership with Sage Bionetworks to establish an online repository for open data sharing among digital biomarker researchers who receive Diagnostics Accelerator
To find out more about these investments and the projects they support, as well as to gain some insight into how they and the ADDF is hoping to make an impact, NeurologyLive
spoke with Howard Fillit, MD, founding executive director and chief science officer, ADDF.
NeurologyLive: What does the clinical community need to know about the DIGITAL projects being developed with these awards?
Howard Fillit, MD:
This recent round of digital awards is especially important right now as they fund projects that allow for remote monitoring of patients, which can be done with ubiquitous devices (smartphones, tablets, wearables) that people are already familiar with. This latest round of funding will also generate vast amounts of data to enable detection of subtle changes earlier on. To accelerate the field of digital biomarkers, recipients are required to share data and this allows for new insights to emerge as technology/algorithms evolve.
Does one (or more) of these projects stand out to you as particularly promising?
The digital award we’ve funded makes the current computerized International Shopping List Test (ISLT) in Alzheimer’s, which is a standardized test using repeated presentation and free recall of shopping items to evaluate verbal memory, more accessible to patients by allowing them to take the test on a tablet. In addition, we have funded the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) to evaluate several promising technologies to advance the field of blood beta-amyloid measurements. It is important to understand the advantages and limitations of the different technologies currently used in research laboratories so as to enable advancing those that show the most promise.
Are any of these developments closer to completion or making a clinical impact than the others?
The adaptation of the ISLT test on the tablet is anticipated to have an impact given the ability to gather data remotely and make it more accessible to patients. However, for the most part, these digital technologies are in early stages and funding to advance this will be transformative in improving patient care and relieving the caregiver burden in the next few years and help advance clinical trials.
How important is the improved incorporation of tech advances into medical care and research?
It is becoming important to have the ability to remotely monitor patients and deliver quick and easy tests that can be done at home without undue patient and/or caregiver burden. An important consideration in digital data collection for research purposes is ensuring that the data can be anonymized and transferred securely to the research labs/physicians’ offices. In addition, as the field is rapidly evolving, making available the data from the digital biomarker projects will be important for future algorithm development. To that end, ADDF has partnered with Sage Bionetworks to enable secure, anonymized data sharing.
What else should we expect to see from the Diagnostic Accelerator program in 2020?
From a digital biomarker perspective, we are evaluating several promising tools and technologies in speech and language, cognitive testing, and oculomotor symptom domains. We are also evaluating “smart home type” devices to monitor patient activities of daily living and provide customized solutions to the patient and caregiver. We are also looking at blood and eye tests as biomarkers.
Transcript edited for clarity
ALZHEIMER’S DRUG DISCOVERY FOUNDATION’S DIAGNOSTICS ACCELERATOR ANNOUNCES FIRST DIGITAL BIOMARKER RESEARCH AWARD AND DATA SHARING PLATFORM [press release]. New York, NY: ADDF; Published April 29, 2020. Accessed May 15, 2020. alzdiscovery.org/news-room/announcements/ADDF-diagnostics-accelerator-first-digital-biomarker-research-award