Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Early stage cell therapy funding gap can be filled by ‘venture philanthropies’

Attendees gather ahead of Brock Reeves' presentation at Cell Therapy Bioprocessing & Commercialization 2015

By Ryan Geswell

Brock Reeve, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute joined the Cell Therapy Bioprocessing & Commercialization today to discuss the commercialization of cell therapies and, more specifically, ways to fund early stage science.

He told a packed session that, because of uncertainty in financial markets, venture capitalists and other financially motivated investors have moved away from cell therapy, leaving a gap in funding. This gap is being filled by venture philanthropy organizations.

The goal of these venture philanthropy organizations is to move things from “the academic world and into the commercial market”, he said. 

He cited the 2014 move by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to sell rights to a drug its funding helped develop for $3.3bn, which Reeve said firmly placed venture philanthropy organizations as investment vehicles into the spotlight. 

Since then others have come to light, he said. He discussed how the SMA Foundation was created to accelerate the development of a treatment for SMA, the number one genetic killer of infants and toddlers. The foundation has spent more than US$110m on SMA drug development and serves as a hub for SMA research, investing in a cross-section of activity.

Other investment vehicles have also presented themselves, Reeve said. One has been the emergence of debt as a financing mechanism for medical R&D. Traditionally, medical research “has lagged behind other sectors” in the creation and application of novel financing methods to address market failures, he added.

These unique methods of financing for the sector have presented tremendous opportunity for advancements in research, drug development, and treatment, Reeve concluded. And because of these funding opportunities, many organizations have already hinted at potential cures.

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