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AHA, Alphabet Set Aside $75 Million To Cure Coronary Heart Disease

The disease kills more than 370,000 Americans each year.

[Photo: Jes2u.photo via Shutterstock]

A trio of medical heavyweights has set aside $75 million to invest in a cure for coronary heart disease.

The American Heart Association, Verily (the company formerly known as Google Life Sciences), and European pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca are investing the funds over a five-year period. On Thursday, these companies will begin a search process for a research team to lead the effort, known as One Brave Idea, and they'll start taking applications for potential projects.

It remains to be seen whether the grant will primarily fund new technologies to diagnose heart disease, new therapies, or interventions to change patients' behavior.

"We have found treatments that help people with heart disease live longer, but we haven't found out how to prevent coronary heart disease from happening in the first place," Nancy Brown, CEO of the AHA, tells Fast Company. Brown said the solution could be a treatment, a diagnostic, or a combination of the two. "We're looking for a brand-new something that should be studied, and we want people in the community to tell us their ideas."

The AHA stresses that the person selected to oversee the grant will have access to computational and scientific expertise from all three organizations. Brown said the grant's leadership team will be open to funding an existing startup, and acting as an "accelerant" for those who come up with a compelling new idea.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the CDC. More than 370,000 people die each year from coronary heart disease, or CHD, which is one of the most common forms of cardiovascular disease.

In recent years, the AHA has voiced concerns that government funding into medical research is insufficient. So it's not surprising that the association has turned to the private sector.

"We want to create a model for experts from different disciplines to come together and focus on a problem," said Andrew Conrad, CEO of Verily, in a statement.

Medical experts say such efforts to find a cure for coronary heart disease are sorely needed.

"We need new treatments, and we need to get better at behavior modification," says Michael McCullough, assistant professor of emergency medicine at UC San Francisco, who frequently treats patients with heart disease. Such behavior changes include healthier eating habits or smoking cessation.

"But it’s not easy as there are lots of ways to get heart disease and people are not as concerned about it as they should be, relative to a disease like cancer," he continued. "Heart disease kills a lot more people than cancer."

The application period for this new research enterprise officially opens on Thursday.

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