Alzheimer’s is a looming pandemic. It is 100% fatal. It currently afflicts more than 5.5 million people in the US costing $259 Billion – numbers that are expected to grow exponentially as the population ages. Frustrated by the absence of public urgency and funding to stop Alzheimer’s – and the slow pace of science, a multi-disciplinary world-class team of scientists, advisors, and advocates has joined forces to globally crowdsource breakthrough innovations to leapfrog scientific progress and overcome many of the obstacles of stopping this disease.
The Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Team is united in their efforts to stop this health, social and financial sinkhole of the 21st century. Download the transcript or listen to the audio recording of the special briefing where they share their views, passion and ideas for the next Alzheimer’s XPrize.
Co-Founder & Chairman
Founder & CEO
Author of Still Alice
Listen to the Recording
Marcus Shingles, CEO, XPRIZE
XPRIZE is a non-profit, and we’re the global leader in solving the world’s grandest challenges –creating and managing large-scale incentive prized competitions. So we look at very significant, audacious, grand challenges facing humanity and then if there’s a way to gamify innovation from small teams around the world to incentivize for them to participate in solving a grand challenge, we put that into a competition format. We then crowdsource the world for those solutions through highly leveraged prize purses, from $5 million, $20 million, $30 million prize purses.
Some of the XPRIZEs that we’ve done in the past — or are doing currently — have included a $10 million Ansari XPRIZE sub-orbital spaceflight, which is credited with launching today’s $3 billion private sector space industry. We currently have a $30 million Google XPRIZE to land a privately funded Rover on the moon. And we recently awarded the $10 million Qualcomm XPRIZE to bring health care into the consumer’s hand.
The model behind XPRIZE is that we identify these grand challenges and then look at teams that we organize around these grand challenge concepts. These teams prepare impact proposals that they present to our community at our annual summit. It’s called a Visioneers summit. At this year’s summit, we have five teams, including the Alzheimer’s team that you will be speaking with today. The grand challenge areas include clean air and air pollution, cyber security, democracy and voting, and industrial waste and mining.
So this October, 250 of private guests from our board of trustees and our network will come to Southern California for a four day meeting. At that meeting, the five teams will present their impact proposals. The 250 individuals who are there for several days will evaluate and mentor, the teams and proposals and reflect on which of them can be put through an XPRIZE model.
When we look at these contests and put these teams together, a lot of the advocacy and subject matter to our team is critical, and we couldn’t be happier with this team. We have a bestselling author and neuroscientist, a young brilliant scientific entrepreneur, a retired media and technology executive and patient advocate, and a gerontologist, author and futurist who years ago foretold the future we are now experiencing.
Lisa Genova, PhD, neuroscientist and author of Still Alice
For the past 20 years, Alzheimer’s disease has really been my preoccupation. I am a Harvard-trained neuroscientist, a strategy consultant for biotech companies, an advocate for better research dollars, and a novelist, who has hopefully helped millions gain a more passionate understanding what of it feels like to live with this disease.
Alzheimer’s is the only disease in the ten leading causes of death in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, slowed or cured. It’s 100 percent fatal. We have zero Alzheimer’s survivors. Why is this?
Well, the clinical trials from the past decade and more have been designed to intervene early in the disease process, which is a great strategy, but these drug trials have failed time and again in part because the people in these trials were already symptomatic. They were way too far along in the progression of the disease, so it was too late for these drugs to be effective. Attempting to treat Alzheimer’s with an amyloid intervening drug is like blowing out a match after the brain has already been set ablaze, hoping this will extinguish the fire. So why not diagnose people earlier and enroll these folks in clinical trials? Well diagnosis is still way too difficult.
The current methods for detecting Alzheimer’s — PET scan or lumbar puncture — are too expensive and not covered by insurance; they’re frightening; they carry their own health risks; they’re inaccessible; and they’re often not accurate or sensitive enough to detect the disease early enough.
Think of every single disease that was once incurable and fatal that is now cured or survivable –polio, heart disease, cancer, HIV — all of them are prevented or treated before or early in the disease. If we’re going survive cancer, we need to detect it at stage 1 and not stage 4. We treat HIV and not full-blown AIDS. The treatment and cure for Alzheimer’s must go hand-in-hand with early detection.
So why haven’t we yet figured out how to diagnose Alzheimer’s early or predict who will get it before they get it, much like we do with heart disease? The framework and system we’re currently working in doesn’t work. In academia, there’s not enough funding to do the job and too much time is spent writing grants. It takes YEARS to make the smallest increments in knowledge.
Industry can only afford to invest in one drug at a time instead of taking multiple shots on goal because clinical trials are massively expensive and lengthy. Recruiting patients to these trials stalls the process even further because the current methods of measuring Alzheimer’s are difficult to access, invasive, time-consuming, and frightening. And no one’s talking to each other. Information isn’t shared. Everyone is working on this puzzle in their own silos and the puzzle doesn’t get solved.
Interestingly, the answers for Alzheimer’s might not come from neuroscientists. Think about the field of interventional cardiology as an example. This entirely new discipline of medicine came from innovations in minimally invasive devices and imaging technology that has allowed us to detect and treat early symptoms of heart disease, preventing heart attacks. These innovations didn’t come from cardiologists or cardiothoracic surgeons, they came from physicists and software engineers and imaging specialists. This is why XPRIZE is so exciting and incredibly promising for Alzheimer’s disease. We don’t have to accept or be constrained by the existing framework.
Alzheimer’s cannot be our collective destiny, the unthinkable price we must pay for longevity.
Philip Edgcumbe, PhD, team leader, scientist, biomedical engineer and entrepreneur
The team and I have conducted over 100 interviews with experts of the NIH, Harvard, Stanford, UCSF, Europe, and around the world, and almost everyone was willing to support us in developing an Alzheimer’s XPRIZE because they also agreed it is time for fresh ideas and new innovation strategies in Alzheimer’s research.
We are proposing an XPRIZE Alzheimer’s competition to identify a biotarget that can predict the disease and be targeted to prevent the disease. We plan to challenge teams from around the globe to develop accurate, affordable, scalable, and minimally invasive technologies for detecting the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s and potential treatment targets.
This is not something that they will just do in theory. The final teams in our XPRIZE competition will come to our testing facility and prove that their technology works on human test subjects. Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, the Chief Medical Officer at Pfizer, told us in an interview that she was excited about this XPRIZE competition because she said if we can find the right target, Pfizer and other big pharmaceutical companies and innovators from around the world can hit those targets.
Now thanks to a convergence of exponential technologies in medicine and the world-leading gamification and crowd sourcing platform that is XPRIZE, the time and tools are right for finding a major breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research.
Relevant exponential technology trends are all around us. Brain imaging, genetic sequencing, bio factors, biosensors, artificial intelligence, and more. Computers are a common example of exponential technology. Humans are naturally linear thinkers. We understand that 30 steps will get us across a room but have trouble fathoming that thirty exponential steps, one, two, four, eight, etc would take someone around the planet, 26 times.
That’s important for us because as soon as the technology becomes digitized its capabilities start to grow exponentially as well. Genetic sequencing is an example of this phenomenon. The cost of sequencing has dropped over 10,000 times since 2001. That is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of medical technologies that are now on an exponential price-performance trend. This means that innovators around the world have access to technology that was once only available to large governments and corporations. These newly empowered innovators are why crowdsourcing is the phenomenon that has the potential to be transformative in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
Our goal in proposing the Alzheimer’s XPRIZE is to ride the wave of exponential technology, gamification of innovation, and crowdsourcing to create a new framework for innovation and eliminate Alzheimer’s from our society. We are going to unlock incredible amounts of human potential to work on Alzheimer’s disease.
Many scientists believe that the disease process begins 10 to 20 years before symptoms are noticeable. This means we have a window of opportunity, a decade or more when the disease is at its earliest moments. Our goal is to open that window of opportunity and find targets that exist at that stage in the disease that could be impacted to prevent Alzheimer’s from occurring.
We expect our prize to do so much more than generate a better means of detecting Alzheimer’s. A better early detection and bio-targeting tool will turbo charge our understanding of the brain and Alzheimer’s and give us a new era of disease protection, prevention, treatment, and cure.
George Vradenburg, founder and chairman of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s and former media executive
The scale, cost, and impact of Alzheimer’s make it one of this century’s greatest health, economic, and social challenges. Today over 150 million people are estimated to be experiencing this disease globally, as victims or caregivers, at an annual cost of well over 1 percent of global economic output. And those numbers are rising. Two-thirds of the victims are in low and middle-income countries, stressing national sovereign debt quality, dampening national productivity, and potentially having a significant impact on global economic growth.
This disease is sexist. Two-thirds of the victims and caregivers are women, slowing their career and job opportunities and setting back a Women’s Movement that has made so much progress over the last 40 or 50 years.
This disease is racist. African-Americans are two to three times more likely to have this disease as Caucasians and, by 2030, the majority of Americans with this disease will be African-American or Latinos.
This is a family disease — family members and caregivers are secondhand victims of this disease. The cost to families for caring for their loved one is aggravating gender and racial inequalities, exacerbating social stress. The global response to this global challenge, the global investment in research and in family support, has been anemic. In this era of innovation, now is the time for the transformative power of XPRIZE to drive the world to committing to end this disease and to serving as the catalyst to innovative new approaches to doing just that.
The clinical trials now on the drawing board for cognitively normal individuals are designed to be eight to nine years long because of the difficulty, before symptoms appear, in identifying and recruiting people at risk for Alzheimer’s into clinical trials who are not treatment-seeking and who have no symptoms. Clinical trials can require participants to commit to at least four to five years of treatment, not knowing whether they are on a placebo or on the active drug. These burdens are a great deterrent to participants who are cognitively normal.
Alzheimer’s clinical trials are much more costly because of that duration and because of the cost of recruitment. And because it takes a very long time to actually discern whether or not a drug that is introduced in people who are cognitively normal is actually going to prevent or delay the symptoms of the disease.
We’ve learned that the earlier we detect a disease, the better our chances are of stopping it and curing it. We don’t have the tools to do that with Alzheimer’s yet and that’s why this XPRIZE is essential. The earlier we detect Alzheimer’s, as we have with other diseases like heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and cancer, the better we’re able to cure it. So now is the time to do this for Alzheimer’s.
I work with hundreds of industry executives, academic and industry researchers, and government officials, all personally dedicated to finding a cure. Many are driven by the same loss of a loved one in their circle of friends or family as we are. They may be personally driven to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, but the institutions in which they work are driven by multiple priorities, multiple constituencies, budget and authority constraints, limitations on data sharing, or other collaborative practices. There is a clear market failure when it comes to those innovations that benefit all players, but which no one player is able to develop or finance on their own.
That’s where the innovative power of the nonprofit XPRIZE crowdsourcing model can bring about a powerful acceleration of a cure for Alzheimer’s, and that’s why I’m on this team — for my wife and my daughter.
Ken Dychtwald, PhD
Throughout 99% percent of human history, the average life expectancy worldwide was under 18. There have always been 40 and 60 and 80-year-olds, but not very many. In fact, two-thirds of all the people who have ever lived past the age of 65 in the entire history of the world are alive today.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about our Founding Fathers. At the time our Constitution was crafted, the average life expectancy in the United States was just under 36 years. There was no anticipation of an age wave by the founding fathers of our nation, and there surely was no expectation of Alzheimer’s pandemics when our system was created.
Keep in mind that, until recently, most people died swiftly and relatively young, in accidents or in child birth. As a result of massive health improvements, antibiotics, immunization, patient nutrition control, the average life expectancy at birth has vaulted to 79 today, but even more interestingly, the modal age of death, the age when most people die more than any other age, is now 86 and is steadily rising. In this regard we’re living in truly uncharted territory, and longevity is humanity’s new frontier.
However, although we’ve managed to prolong the life span, we’ve done far too little to expand our health span and we’ve got some problems coming with regard to brain span.
When I got into the field of gerontology, you would hear “well old people get dementia, what’s the big deal?” We now know that Alzheimer’s is not a necessary outcome of longevity. Rather it’s a particular family of horrific diseases that are far more likely to occur in the later years of life. One in three people over 85 is now suffering from Alzheimer’s or related dementias. With greater life expectancy and the aging of the baby boomer generation, chronic health problems for older adults will continue to rise in the years to come and Alzheimer’s stands out from the rest. It’s 100 percent fatal, and essentially 100 percent untreatable right now.
Overwhelmingly people of all ages are now saying that the scariest condition of long life is Alzheimer’s.
When I give speeches on the longevity revolution, I often ask audiences, “would you like to live to 100?” and everybody raises their hand to say “yes.” But if I then ask “no matter what?” all the hands come down. People say, “You know what? I’ve seen my aunt, I’ve seen my mom, I’ve seen my uncle – get decimated by this disease, and that’s not a disease I want to live ten years with.
Beyond the heartache of losing yourself – or a loved one over days or years or decades, the dollar cost of Alzheimer’s is massive. If we don’t do anything about it, between now and the year 2050 in the U.S. alone, the cumulative cost will be $20 trillion.
So this group, and our advisers and hundreds of neuroscientists around the country and the world, has come together to put an end to Alzheimer’s disease using 21st century techniques and technologies.
When I was 30, I collaborated on a book with Dr. Jonas Salk. I was born in 1950 and was a beneficiary of his breakthroughs, he told me that in the 1940s when polio was rampant, people thought that polio was simply a part of our lives, and what we needed was more iron lungs. Salk said no, we have to stop this disease.
We have come together to stop Alzheimer’s.
Over the past five years of our work, we’ve learned that there are three things stand in the way. First, a massive amount of hopelessness and frustration on the part of families, individuals, even the Alzheimer’s community and scientists.
Second, as Lisa and George and Philip pointed out, we are troubled to see how one scientist or one company don’t usually share their results with scientists in another company because they’re proprietary. DARPA has a sophisticated understanding of the biosciences, but they do not share with other countries. There’s no language common within the scientific protocols.
A third obstacle is the cost and timing. You would think in the 21st century that our pace of science would be faster than it was decades ago. It’s not what it could be. It’s time to alter not only science, but its pace and even velocity — radically.
With unprecedented global aging, unless Alzheimer’s disease is stopped, and stopped soon, it will be the health, social, and financial sinkhole of the 21st century. So we’re here today to publicly announce our intent to use 21st century technology to crowdsource a path for the end of Alzheimer’s and thereby change the course of history.