by Gillian Parrish, Manager of Alliance Development and Communications, FasterCures
Though philanthropic investment in medical research accounts for only three percent of overall spending, a pittance compared to government and industry funding, it plays a vital role in catalyzing progress. Unburdened by the demands of shareholders, and the legacy mandates of institutional funders like the NIH, nonprofit disease foundations have the flexibility to fund high risk, high reward research that disproportionately accelerates the pace of innovation.
The “Investing in the Cure Enterprise” panel Monday afternoon at the Milken Institute Global Conference explored what’s working in medical philanthropy and how to encourage more philanthropists to invest effectively in the development of new and better treatments for disease.
Melissa Stevens of FasterCures moderated the discussion, noting the important role that medical philanthropy plays in stimulating research in under-resourced disease areas, and bridging the so-called “valley of death” in funding, between basic discovery and later-stage, clinical research.
Panelists from across the philanthropy spectrum agreed that a mix of accountability and measurement in research, together with investments in process infrastructure, would speed the discovery and development of new treatments.
Though perhaps not as “sexy” as disease-specific investments, funding for the development of medical philanthropy process infrastructure—including the sharing of data and best practices across sectors and diseases—is critical to replicating success and learning from failure, noted Matthew Bishop of The Economist. Melanie Schnoll Begun, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Philanthropic Services, echoed the importance of understanding failures, saying that often in medical R&D, “failures” are actually successes, in that they eliminate ineffective research options and point the way to better cures.
Jane Wales of the Global Philanthropy Forum talked about the growing convergence between the social sector and private sector. “Philanthropists are bringing the rigor of the private sector to the work they do in medical research,” she said, “and the most important thing they can do moving forward is to pass their values along to the generations that follow to drive sustainability towards long-term goals.”
Susan Axelrod of 23andMe, Inc., said: “Philanthropists like us have a high tolerance for risk. We’d rather push the envelope in dramatic ways, even if we might fail, than play it safe.”