February 20, 2022
(LOS ANGELES) – In 1900, David Hilbert, a German Mathematician, developed a list of “mathematical problems” that had gone unsolved. He presented this list to an international society of mathematicians, which created a focus on the energy, time, and funding to solve these problems. In essence, the concept of Grand Challenges was born.
TumSince then, this idea of catalyzing communities of researchers to focus on the most challenging problems facing their respective fields has blossomed on an international scale. Nearly every foundation, academic institution, government, and even some private industry groups have used the Grand Challenges process to stimulate new ideas and galvanize their members to focus on these intractable issues.
At TIBI, we have participated, on many levels, in challenges that have been sponsored by other organizations. Last year, we decided to spark our own set of Grand Challenges facing biomedical innovation. Working together as an interdisciplinary team of scientists, clinicians, and business development professionals, we created a list of problems in the biomedical space that have yet gone unsolved. After much debate, we moved forward with an issue that touches the lives of millions of people around the world. In America alone, it is estimated that 6.2 million people are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, and that number, without new interventions, is expected to grow to 13.8 million people by 2060 (1). That number does not include how many lives are directly impacted, including family members, friends, and caregivers. Therefore, we believe this issue is of the utmost importance to find solutions to this growing and tragic problem.
With this in mind, and with extensive efforts from TIBI Assistant Professor Vadim Jucaud and Associate Professor Mehmet Dokmeci, we developed a new internal Grand Challenge for all of our scientists to participate in, regardless of their knowledge and expertise of this specific disease. The idea was to actively engage new ideas, different lines of query, and use the opportunity to broaden the knowledge and expertise of our institute as a whole. In December 2021, we launched our Grand Challenge: “Human Three-Dimensional Cell Model Systems for Alzheimer's Disease.” We have been excited by the compelling ideas submitted by our science team – ideas we believe have the potential to revolutionize the drug discovery process, as well as gain a better understanding of the etiology of Alzheimer’s Disease which would also lend to more personalized medicine. Overall, this work can help bring critical therapeutics in Alzheimer’s disease to the healthcare system more efficiently and effectively.
It has been estimated that the total cost of just one drug development program for AD is $5.6 billion, and it takes an average of 13 years to move through the trial pipeline to FDA approval (2). Additionally, roughly 98% of these drugs will fail at some point in this pipeline due to factors like the toxicity of the drug or lack of efficacy. Our Grand Challenge is designed to build a platform upon which we can test these drugs early in “human three-dimensional cell culture models that mimic in vivo tissue architecture and physiological conditions.” Effectively, this means we will develop a model to accurately test the toxicity and efficacy of a drug before it goes to human trial. As this work could be used in pre-clinical models, there is also a potential for reducing the number animals used for research. This platform will enable drug developers to screen potential drug candidates much more rapidly and cost-effectively before starting their clinical trials on human patients.