Ten major pharmaceutical companies have linked up with the US government's National Institutes of Health and a number of non-profit organisations to deepen understanding of the biology of difficult-to-treat diseases, notably Alzheimer's.

More than two years in the making, the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) hopes to "transform the current model for developing new diagnostics and treatments by jointly identifying and validating promising biological targets of disease…and reduce the time and cost of developing them". The companies taking part are AbbVie, Biogen Idec, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Merck & Co., Pfizer, Sanofi and Takeda.

The venture will begin with three-to-five year projects with a budget of $229.5 million, split between the NIH and industry. Some $129.5 million of that will be dedicated to Alzheimer's, while the other disease areas to be investigated are type 2 diabetes ($58.4 million) and rheumatoid arthritis/lupus ($41.6 million).

Challenge 'beyond any one of us'

NIH director Francis Collins said that “currently, we are investing a great deal of money and time in avenues with high failure rates, while patients and their families wait. All sectors of the biomedical enterprise agree that new approaches are sorely needed". While noting that "recent dramatic advances in basic research are opening new windows of opportunity for therapeutics,” he added that "this challenge is beyond the scope of any one of us and it’s time to work together in new ways to increase our collective odds of success".

Pfizer R&D chief Mikael Dolsten went on to say that “"this type of novel collaboration will leverage the strengths of both industry and NIH to ensure we expedite translation of scientific knowledge into next -generation therapies". Elias Zerhouni, Sanofi's research chief, added that "no longer a collection of acute illnesses, the medical landscape now features chronic diseases, many of which are not well understood. Its ignorance is expensive. It costs society in lives [and] dollars, and …this knowledge gap must be approached with a strong sense of urgency".