NIA Launches Research Centers to Advance Drug Discovery in Alzheimer’s

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by Mary Chapman |

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To advance the pipeline for innovative therapeutics in Alzheimer’s (AD), the National Institute on Aging (NIA) will invest an expected $73 million over five years in two new translational research centers.

The centers will be funded through the NIA’s Alzheimer Centers for the Discovery of New Medicines program, and offer more infrastructure for the development of top-shelf investigative tools and technologies necessary for the validation and advancement of new therapy targets. Translational research is specifically designed to improve health outcomes.

Using an open-access platform, the centers will share with the wider research community, for free, their data, methodologies and experimental and computational tools for use in drug discovery and in efforts to enhance disease understanding.  The NIA’s Accelerating Medicines Partnership-Alzheimer’s Disease program (AMP-AD), which has yielded 500 prospective AD targets, will serve as the centers’ foundation.

“Through these centers, NIH will expand the use of open science and open source principles to de-risk novel drug targets, with the goal of facilitating the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s,” Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, National Institutes of Health (NIH) director, said in a press release. The NIA is part of the NIH.

Scientists have not yet found effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, a disease that affects roughly 5.6 million U.S. residents age 65 and older. By 2050, some 14 million individuals could be living with the disorder, the NIH said.

“Drug development for Alzheimer’s disease is a challenging, costly and high-risk endeavor,” said Richard J. Hodes, MD, NIA director. “The launch of these centers marks a strategic step forward in our multi-pronged approach to accelerating discovery and development of treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s.”

Led by multidisciplinary teams of researchers from a host of institutions, the new centers will include the Open Drug Discovery Center for Alzheimer’s Disease, or Open-AD. Using data from the AMP-AD program, scientists there hope to create and disseminate a host of tools aimed at speeding validation of novel targets or supporting drug discovery research. The tools will include high-quality antibodies and chemical probes.

Incorporating AMP-AD target discovery efforts, the new Indiana University School of Medicine Alzheimer’s Disease Drug Discovery Center will test whether newly discovered molecules can modify disease in Alzheimer’s animal models. The researchers’ efforts will especially target those molecules founded on biomarkers developed by the NIA-funded Model Organism Development & Evaluation for Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Consortium.

The goal is to develop a portfolio of Alzheimer’s drug targets that can translate into new therapeutic avenues, especially those that target the immune system.

“Through these centers, scientists will advance drug discovery for new targets to the point of attracting external partners who can take them into clinical development,” said Lorenzo Refolo, PhD, program director for Alzheimer’s Translational Research at NIA.

“Ultimately, we need many candidate therapeutics that target multiple aspects of the disease in the drug development pipeline because there’s not likely to be a single cure for Alzheimer’s,” Refolo said.