Taking a VC Approach to Charity, Greylock Veteran’s Alzheimer’s Research Foundation “Dares to Be Great”

8/25/10Follow @xconomy

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when the head of an NIH-funded lab must spend roughly 30 percent of her time on grant writing and other administrative paperwork. The nonprofit streamlines the grant process by having its scientific advisory board consider only proposals it solicits—either from its research consortium of roughly a dozen scientists, or from researchers suggested by consortium members. Grant recipients must provide reports—ranging from three to five pages—twice yearly on the research progress, and give an update of how funds were spent at the end of the year.

At the time of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund’s founding, researchers had discovered four genes believed to increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, McCance says. (Tanzi’s lab had co-discovered three of those four.) And the majority of drugmakers pursuing treatments for the condition were focused on those genes. At the inception of fund, Tanzi proposed a project that aimed to discover another 10 to 15 genes linked to the Alzheimer’s, in an attempt to give researchers and drug developers more “more shots on goal” for an Alzheimer’s cure.

With funding from Cure Alzheimer’s, Tanzi and his “dream team” consortium set out to do a so-called Alzheimer’s Genome Project and map out the genes he thought could spark further drug discovery, McCance says. They put together a research roadmap—which McCance likened to a startup company’s business plan—and started on their first set of 20-yard passes, McCance says.

In the fall of 2008, the first piece of the Alzheimer’s Genome Project came in, on time and on budget, McCance says. All told, the project discovered more than 100 genes linked to the disease, the first four of which were published in a paper in the fall of 2008. That year, TIME Magazine’s “Top 10 Everything of 2008″ list named it as one of the year’s major medical breakthroughs.

“It was nice independent verification that at least our initial project had been an important contribution to the field,” he says.

The organization is also looking to make a contribution by helping to break down what McCance sees as another barrier in scientific research: the “publish or perish” culture, where scientists remain highly secretive and protective of their work in order to be the first to publish a discovery. “That makes no sense at all on a more macro level if you want to solve a problem,” McCance says. “We want the best brains to … Next Page »

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