This post presents an interview with Dr. Matthias Piesche, a Denmark-based biomedical scientist who is currently crowdfunding a cancer research project that could lead to new immunotherapies for melanoma and other types of cancer. Oncology is one of the hottest areas for science crowdfunding, and it’s fascinating to get the inside scoop on how and why cutting-edge biomedical researchers are choosing to crowdfund their research. You’ll want to read this if you’re thinking about crowdfunding your own work.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your scientific background?
A: I am a cancer immunology scientist. After graduating in Goettingen, Germany, I moved to Boston to work at the prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School. I worked there for 7 years with Prof. Glenn Dranoff, a leader in cancer cell vaccines and tumor immunology.
Q: What drew you to cancer research?
Since I started to study biology I was interested in cancer. First it was more about why cancer arises, what makes a cell switch from a healthy cell to a cancer cell. However, I soon switched to cancer immunology because I wanted to help to find better treatments and involving the patient’s own immune system in the treatment was the best option in my opinion.
Q: What is your vision for the future of cancer therapies?
When I started in cancer immunology a lot of people didn’t believe in it anymore. The first clinical trials failed and it didn’t look promising. However, I thought that we were only at the beginning of the journey, e.g., regulatory cells, which suppress the immune system, had just been discovered. That showed that the regulation of the immune system is more complex than had been thought, and just giving some immune stimulating drugs would not lead to a cure, particularly since over-activation can cause auto-immune diseases. For me that meant we had to learn more how the immune system is regulated and also how it interacts with the tumor itself.
My approach will activate the patient’s own immune system directly to detect all tumor cells…
Hard work and few years later, we now see the first successful treatments with the checkpoint inhibitors – checkpoint proteins like PD-1 and CTLA-4 act as a kind of brake on the immune system and if you remove this brake the system can become fully activated. Antibodies against this “brake” (PD-1 and CTLA-4) recently got approved for metastatic melanoma. Clinical trials in other tumor entities are also showing promising results. Another approach is the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). CARs are engineered receptors that recognize surface proteins on the tumor cell. Once recognized, they destroy the tumor cell. Early clinical trials in B cell malignancies have demonstrated potent clinical efficacy.
And this is just the beginning; there are a lot of other promising ideas under investigation. However, since each tumor is different we have to personalize the treatments for each patient’s need. That means we have to identify the genetic markers of the tumor to give the patient the best treatment option. Additionally, we have to combine different therapeutic strategies to decrease the possibility that the tumor can escape the treatment. At the end, I think that a combination of chemical drugs combined with immunotherapies will be the key to curing cancer patients.
Q: Why did you decide to crowdfund your project at Aarhus University?
Traditional funding agencies like the NIH have reduced their budget over the past 8 years to fund scientific research. Most of the proposals get turned down and the few lucky ones receive only a smaller amount compared to previous years. Therefore, a lot of promising research is delayed or never will get funded.
Additionally, scientists in their 30s have a much lower chance of getting one of the precious grants. If you look at the young scientists who received the leading NIH research grant, RO1, between 1983 and 2010, you can see a really worrying decline from 18% (1983) to 3% (2010). Furthermore, scientists older than 65 years get as twice as many research grants as scientists below age 36. Therefore, the options for young scientists like me are limited and crowdfunding is an option to get funded.Aarhus University, antibodies, cancer research, crowdfunding, Denmark, GoFundMe, immunotherapy, Matthias Piesche, melanoma, oncology, research funding
Venture Finance in Biotech
- Venture-Backed Biotech Today: Reflections On Exits, Funding, and Startup Formation – Insightful overview of the current state of venture funding in biotech. A key take-away: there’s more money flowing into the sector, but it’s not funding any more early-stage startups than in the bottom years of 2008/2009.
- Big rounds push 2014 biotech venture funding to near-record $6B – Life sciences companies received 20% of tracked venture capital in 2014.
- The Lone Biotech Bear? – Four reasons to be cautious about the prospects of the coming new dawn for biotech.
- Foundation receives $3.3-billion windfall for Kalydeco – The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s venture philanthropy strategy pays off in spades.
- Funding Clinical Trials: Challenges for Small Biotechs – Great overview of the sources of funding for clinical trials available to biotech startups in Canada.
- Antibiotics “a terrible business model” for Pharmas expert tells Davos – Pharma representatives, the WHO, and academics all agree: antibiotics development should be largely driven by government and non-profits. This needs to be backed up by funding, though, and raises the question of how government & non-profit funders can retain control over pricing when industry is partnered with to scale up production.
Crowdfunding in Biotech
- Crowdfunding boosts research into Parkinson’s drugs – U.K. scientists use equity crowdfunding to finance a drug re-purposing startup.
- Crowdfunding A Patent-Free Drug For Treating Cancer – An interesting initiative to crowdfund a xenograft study to test a patent-free anti-cancer compound. This is where I see crowdfunding being most useful in biomedical research at the moment: funding modest (~ $50,000) preclinical studies that help to de-risk the further development of a specific compound.
- Crowdfunding Case Study: How to build a $500 Million Biotech in Silicon Valley, Without Silicon Valley” – A fascinating account of how Sanovas Inc. raised $20 million without depending on institutional investors. Is their use of impact investors willing to invest with Self-Directed IRAs a new form of equity crowdfunding in biotech?
- List of Crowdfunding Platforms for Scientific Research – Of the 6 science-focused equity crowdfunding platforms on this list, 5 cater to healthcare and biotechnology startups. This illustrates the level of interest about crowdfunding in biotech today.
Tags: antibiotics, biotech, biotechnology, cancer, crowdfunding, cystic fibrosis, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, drug development, drug patents, drug repurposing, Kalydeco, Parkinson's disease, patent-free, venture capital, venture philanthropy
I’ve updated the Funded Science list of crowdfunding platforms for scientific research. Interestingly, health-related portals dominate the list, with over 50% of platforms focusing on drug and/or medical device development.
Portals will be added to the list as they come online. Please let me know if I’m missing any: email@example.com.
List of Crowdfunding Portals for Scientific Research
|Portal||Research Area||Crowdfunding Model||Portal Fee||Based in...|
|Abundance Energy||Clean tech/renewable energy||Equity-based (for-profit)||No Investor Fee||United Kingdom|
|ADHD Fund||Health (ADHD)||Donation-based (non-profit)||n/a||Netherlands|
|AngelMD||Health (General)||Equity-based (for-profit)||No Investor Fee||USA|
|B-a-MedFounder||Health (Medical Devices)||Equity- or Rewards-based (for-profit)||4.5%-10%||Cyprus|
|Capital Cell||Health + Biotech||Equity-based (for-profit)||5%-7%||Spain|
|The Common Good||Health (Prince Charles Hospital Foundation)||Donation-based (non-profit)||n/a||Australia|
|Consano||Health (General)||Donation-based (non-profit)||No Fee||USA|
|DigVentures||Archaeology||Donation-based (for-profit)||4%-9%||United Kingdom|
|Donors Cure||Health (General)||Donation-based (non-profit)||8%||USA|
|Funds4Research||Health (Rare Diseases)||Donation-based (non-profit)||n/a||Spain|
|Fiat Physica||Physics & Astronomy||Donation-based||15%||USA|
|FundScience Australia||General||Donation-based (non-profit)||No Fee||Australia|
|FutSci||General||Donation-based (for-profit)||7%||United Kingdom|
|HealthFundr||Health (General)||Equity-based (for-profit)||Variable||USA|
|HealthiosXchange||Health (General)||Equity-based (for-profit)||Variable||USA|
|MyPharmaCompany||Health||Royalty-based (funds specific products)||n/a||France|
|MyProjects||Health (Cancer)||Donation-based (non-profit)||No Fee||United Kingdom|
|Poliwogg||Health & Life Sciences||Equity-based (for-profit)||No Investor Fee||USA|
|Rare Genomics Institute||Health (Rare Diseases)||Donation-based (non-profit)||No Fees||USA|
|Research Funder NI||Health (Cancer)||Donation-based (non-profit)||No Fees||United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)|
|Science Starter||General||Donation-based (non-profit)||n/a||Germany|
|ScienceVest||Life Sciences||Equity-based (for-profit) - accredited investors only||15% carried interest on investments under US$50,000||USA|
|ShareIn||General (Tech & Health)||Equity-based (for-profit)||3%-5%||United Kingdom|
|Sound Affects||Health (Cancer)||Donation-based (non-profit)||10%||USA|
|Springboard Equity||Health||Equity-based (for-profit)||n/a||USA|
|StartACure||Health (Cancer)||Donation-based (non-profit)||5%||USA|
|TechnoFunding||General||Donation-based (for-profit)||5%||United Kingdom|
|Wellfundr||Health||Donation-based + Equity-based (for-profit)||5%||France|