Monday, May 18, 2009

FasterCures Report Applies Lessons of Social Entrepreneurship to Search for Cures

by Kristin Schneeman, Program Director, FasterCures
FasterCures has just released “From Social Entrepreneurship to ‘Cure Entrepreneurship,’” the latest in a series of reports aimed at injecting new, more strategic approaches into the conduct of medical research that hold the promise of accelerating results. The last report in the series, “Entrepreneurs for Cures,” laid out the critical need for innovative approaches to disease research and the important role nonprofit foundations can play in bringing creative thinking and new models to the enterprise.

Stemming from a novel gathering in November 2008 of individuals prominent in the fields of social entrepreneurship and of medical research, the new report poses the question, “Can we create an intersection between social entrepreneurship and medical research philanthropy – an ecosystem to support the work of cure entrepreneurs?”

The report features interviews with key opinion leaders, including:
  • Lucy Bernholz, founder and president of Blueprint Research & Design, on the possibilities and limits of social entrepreneurship;

  • Victoria Hale, founder and chair emeritus of the Institute for OneWorld Health, on the benefits of being part of a community of social entrepreneurs;

  • Jason Hwang, director for health care at InnoSight Institute, on how to bring disruptive innovation to drug development;

  • David Green, vice president at Ashoka, on innovative financing models for nonprofits;

  • Brad Presner, metrics manager at Acumen Fund, on building a new portfolio data management system for use by all social entrepreneurs; and

  • Elias Zerhouni, a senior fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and immediate past director of the National Institutes of Health, on the imperative for engaging patients as decisionmakers in – not merely subject of – the medical research process.
The field of social entrepreneurship has flourished over the last decade, attracting scholarship, media attention, and financial resources and building social and professional networks – as is evidenced by the success of organizations like Ashoka and the Skoll Foundation and the creation of curricula at business schools from Stanford to Harvard.

Medical research, however, is one area of nonprofit social endeavor that has been largely excluded from the dialogue and the discipline (with the exception of global health, where the focus has been largely on challenges related to the delivery of treatments). Yet medical research philanthropy is seeking to address a market failure no less important than other social enterprises: the development of therapies that cure disease and alleviate suffering. Today’s “cure entrepreneurs” are trying to leverage their relatively small dollars to help move promising research through the pipeline from basic discovery to commercial development of products that can help the patients they care about.

Social entrepreneurs aim not merely to serve people in need but to transform the dysfunctional systems that cause social problems. This is true of cure entrepreneurs as well.

Greg Simon, President of FasterCures, says, “The term ‘nonprofit research organization’ cannot capture the emerging culture these new entrepreneurs have created. They work in small organizations that are fighting against the comfortable habits and familiar traditions that dominate medical research in order to create disruptive change in the interest of saving lives. There are breakpoints in the medical research system that can only be resolved by a strategic rethinking of the fundamental relationship between the patients, researchers, academia, government, and industry. The cure entrepreneurs can play a key role in bringing about such a revolution.”

About FasterCures FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions is committed to saving lives by saving time in the research, discovery and development of new treatments for deadly and debilitating diseases. FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute, is nonpartisan, nonprofit and independent of interest groups. For more information, visit

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