Bill Gates, co-chairman of philanthropic outfit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, invested $50m yesterday into the UK government-backed Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF) aimed at early-stage research into therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.

The portfolio of DDF, managed by venture capital firm SV Health Investors, consists of 12 primarily UK and US-based pharmaceutical startups researching drugs to fight brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, an illness that causes dementia and that is currently incurable.

The fund aims to identify concepts that take a different approach from the common hypothesis driving research, which focuses on sticky amyloid plaques accumulated in the brain. It will also look at outside innovations in oncology and immunology.

DDF plans to use Gates’ interest to drive further organisational growth and will recruit a chief executive to oversee the vehicle’s strategy.

The fund recently backed a $7.5m seed round for US-based biotech developer Ribometrix, which is researching whether molecules could target ribonucleic acids (RNA) crucial to gene regulation and expression.

DDF launched in March 2015 with initial funding of $100m and a target of $191m ­– the UK government invested $22m through the Department of Health, while pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline provided $25m and its peer Johnson & Johnson invested $10m.

Pharmaceutical companies Biogen Idec, Eli Lilly and Pfizer all agreed to investments of undisclosed size, while charity Alzheimer’s Research UK committed $7.4m over five years.

Bill Gates said: “I believe we are at a turning point in Alzheimer’s research and development, which the Dementia Discovery Fund is playing an important role in by exploring new approaches to treat the disease.

“This is a frontier where we can dramatically improve human life. It is a miracle that people are living so much longer, but longer life expectancies alone are not enough.

“People should be able to enjoy their later years – and we need a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s to fulfil that. I’m excited to join the fight and can’t wait to see what happens next.”