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Dr. Lara Mangravite, president of Sage Bionetworks. (Photo by Dan DeLong)

Seattle-based nonprofit Sage Bionetworks is leading a heavily funded national effort to find new drugs to fight Alzheimer’s, a disease that has stymied the efforts of big pharma for decades.

The National Institute on Aging, a division of NIH, is committing $37 million in grant funding over five years to create the Open-AD Drug Discovery Center, which aims to find new drug targets for Alzheimer’s. In addition to Sage, other founding members of the center include Emory University, the Structural Genomics Consortium, Stanford University, Oxford University and University of North Carolina.

“This project stitches together open science approaches in computational and experimental research,” Sage president Dr. Lara Mangravite said in a statement. “Sage is contributing its bioinformatic and data science expertise.”

Sage is a 10-year-old nonprofit that brings researchers and data together to advance understanding of diseases.

NIH is also funding a second $36 million center at Indiana University that will test promising Alzheimer’s-fighting molecules in animals.

The U.S. government will spend around $2.3 billion on Alzheimer’s research this year, a fraction of the $195 billion that the disease costs Medicare and Medicaid, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Around 44 million people are living with Alzheimer’s worldwide.

The government’s decision to step up Alzheimer’s funding comes as enthusiasm among drug companies has stalled. Pharmaceutical companies have recorded a 99 percent failure rate against the disease, spending billions of dollars on each drug candidate. The latest disappointment came in March when Biogen and Eisai abandoned two late-stage trials.

“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,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.

The Open-AD center will create open platforms to screen for new drug targets and other applications. By opening up information and tools, the center hopes to find new and diverse Alzheimer’s medicine targets faster than the pharmaceutical industry. Everything produced by the center will be free to use by anyone without the need to purchase intellectual property rights.

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