The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $36 million grant to the IU School of Medicine to launch a drug discovery center focused on accelerating the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. The center is part of a strategic partnership with the Purdue Institute for Drug Discovery, and IU says the partnership is one of only two multi-institution teams in the country selected for a new federal program designed to grow the drug development pipeline for the disease.

The center is being led by Alan Palkowitz, a senior research professor at IU School of Medicine and a nearly 30-year veteran of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY). In an interview with Inside INdiana Business Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, Palkowitz said there are two main goals with the center.

"One is to be able to create more understanding of the disease through our research with the companion goal of hopefully identifying potential molecules that could be developed further that would eventually result in therapies for patients," said Palkowitz. "There’s a lot behind that, of course, but it’s really to help the broader community understand more about Alzheimer’s disease so we can build on those results. But we’d like to be able to produce potential medicine that could be advanced to clinical study."

The funding will be awarded over a five-year period through the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer Centers for Discovery of New Medicines program. IU says the center will initially focus on proteins related to the brain’s immune system that may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

"A lot of the industry is focused more on the advanced pathology of the disease and unfortunately, some of those studies have not been successful," said Palkowitz. "So, what we’re learning from a lot of new insights from the disease is that neuro-inflammation may be a key contributor to the early initiation and progression and so we think that that may be an important area to focus on and that’s where we’ll be looking for potential disease targets and also some of our early discovery efforts will try to advance our understanding of those areas."

Bruce Lamb is the co-principal investigator for the center in addition to serving as director of the IU/Jackson Laboratory Alzheimer’s Disease Precision Models Center at the IU School of Medicine. He tells Inside INdiana Business says the center is exciting because it represents a brand new approach to drug discovery for Alzheimer’s.

"Most of the drug discovery that has happened thus far has been within pharmaceutical companies or within biotech," said Lamb. "This really is a new, unique partnership across multiple institutions to try to take a new and completely different look at it. The other aspect, it’s NIH-funded and one of the requirements is that we make everything available; all of the information we generate, the data we generate is all released basically to the scientific community and I think that’s the other critical piece because we want this to be accelerating the process to get the therapies. Yes, we hope obviously that occurs here within our center, but since we’re going to make this available to scientists worldwide, maybe that will allow other scientists to develop a therapy."

The center is expected to create 15 to 20 jobs between IU and Purdue.