NEW YORK—The sons of cosmetics giant Estée Lauder, along with her four grandchildren, recently pledged $200 million to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, a nonprofit the family founded to support research into finding a cure for the disease.
Leonard and Ronald Lauder founded the organization in 1998 in honor of their mother, who had Alzheimer’s as did other members of her family, said Mark Roithmayr, the CEO of ADDF.
“They have collectively made this family gift to see through the work of the next 10 to 15 years to finish off what Estée started,” said Roithmayr.
Starting with a $100 million gift from their mother, the Lauder sons chose to invest in early research of potential treatments using what they called “venture philanthropy,” meaning any returns on their investments were put toward future research. The family also pledges to cover the organization’s expenses so all outside donations go entirely to funding research, Roithmayr said.
The ADDF will receive the pledged $200 million over the next 10 years and is expected to distribute them in grants over the next 15 years. The commitment will also allow the Lauders to continue to cover ADDF’s expenses, Roithmayr said.
More than 50 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s, which gradually attacks areas of the brain needed for memory, reasoning, communication and daily tasks. Scientists don’t yet know exactly how Alzheimer’s forms, but one theory is that the buildup of a protein called amyloid plays a key role.
The FDA has approved two drugs that target the buildup of amyloid, though the 2021 approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm garnered controversy after the agency overruled its own independent scientific advisers. Legembi, a second drug, approved in January, is the first that’s been convincingly shown to slow the decline in memory and thinking that defines Alzheimer’s by targeting the disease’s underlying biology.
“The need to invest in research is paramount,” said Heather Snyder, a vice president of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Investing in research is how we’re going to understand the underlying biology and translate that to treatment and interventions that will benefit all individuals.”
She said there is a sense of momentum in Alzheimer’s research, in part because of the approval of the new drugs—even though they are not currently covered by Medicaid and Medicare, meaning that many will not have access to them.
Her organization currently funds $320 million in research projects that span from studying the biology of aging to diagnostic tools, clinical trials and care for patients with dementia, as well as investing in advocacy around federal funding for Alzheimer’s research.
Roithmayr said the Lauder family wants to accelerate the timeline for when research will yield treatments by making investments where pharmaceutical companies and the federal government are not.
“Our idea is to take our funding, put it into these translational science, kind of in this valley of death where you’ve got good ideas, but they’re very risky,” he said.
Image credits: AP/Gerald Herbert