How a " for Scientists" Could Lead to a Cure for Alzheimer's

02/09/2015 01:27 pm ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015

Nonprofit research foundations are creating innovative ways for scientists to find resources and the assistance they need to advance their research. Central among these innovations: a growing online marketplace - a veritable for scientists - that may help researchers to discover the next drug to treat Alzheimer's disease.

Finding the Right Partner

Developing truly effective drugs that stop Alzheimer's, or reverse its progression, is an enormous challenge. High risks and low returns have forced pharmaceutical companies to slash their R&D programs for brain disorders, moving early-stage drug discovery efforts into the hands of academic scientists and small biotech companies. These scientists are stymied by limited federal funding, resources and drug discovery expertise.

An increasing number of nonprofit research foundations are stepping in to bridge the funding and resource gap between initial drug discovery studies in academic and biotech labs, and pharmaceutical company-sponsored clinical trials.

Researchers can also accelerate their drug development programs by adopting a virtual drug discovery model, commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry, and outsourcing activities to contract research organizations (CRO), which assume responsibility for specialized tasks throughout the discovery and development process. CROs can save time and resources, while adding value to drug discovery programs, but only if used efficiently.

To help scientists navigate the vast service provider landscape, the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) has collected feedback gathered from over 15 years of drug discovery funding to develop a searchable database of high-quality CROs specializing in brain diseases. ADDF ACCESS, hosted by OnDeckBiotech, combines this curated CRO database with networking and matchmaking tools to streamline connections between researchers.

Making the Most of a First Date

Let's say an academic research team needs to screen compounds to identify potential drugs that could reduce the buildup of an Alzheimer's disease-related protein. If their in-house resources are limited, a CRO that specializes in this screening technology might be the appropriate choice. The ADDF ACCESS platform allows users to quickly identify capable CROs, establish necessary confidentiality protections and request proposals -- saving the time and administrative hassle typically associated with sourcing these service providers (not to mention avoiding the dreaded "blind date"). By accelerating the initial evaluation, scientists minimize the time spent selecting CROs and return their focus to driving the science at hand.

ADDF ACCESS selects CROs based on reputation and due diligence, but how's a researcher to know which CRO is the best fit for their specific needs? The web portal provides educational tools to help scientists decide when to outsource, how to evaluate CROs and how to manage relationships with those companies, in addition to webinars and guidelines about the drug discovery process. Through the portal, the ADDF is building a virtual network of drug discovery experts to provide personalized guidance on partnering with CROs and navigating the drug discovery and development process.

Hearing from the Exes

Scientists often turn to trusted colleagues for advice and feedback on a particular research partner before signing on the dotted line. But one of the main benefits of CROs - their specialized services - often makes it difficult to identify more than one or two options. ADDF ACCESS provides CRO performance reviews - for scientists and by scientists - and connects researchers with our growing network of expert drug discovery consultants.

Optimizing the use of CROs by academia and early-stage biotechs can streamline drug discovery efforts and speed the development of new treatments. With a growing aging population, the need for Alzheimer's therapeutics has never been more critical. By providing novel resources to investigators, nonprofit research foundations do much more than funding research: they can eliminate roadblocks to finding a cure.