Funded Science Q&A – Matthias Piesche on Crowdfunding Cancer Research

Funded Science Q&A – Matthias Piesche on Crowdfunding Cancer Research
Source: © Africa Studio -


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.

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Funded Science Roundup #2: Venture Finance and Crowdfunding in Biotech

Funded Science Roundup #2: Venture Finance and Crowdfunding in Biotech
Credit: © Robert Plotz - Fotolia

Venture Finance in Biotech

  • 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

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List of Crowdfunding Platforms for Scientific Research

List of Crowdfunding Platforms for Scientific Research
Source: © intheskies -

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:

List of Crowdfunding Portals for Scientific Research

PortalResearch AreaCrowdfunding ModelPortal FeeBased in...
Abundance EnergyClean tech/renewable energyEquity-based (for-profit)No Investor FeeUnited Kingdom
ADHD FundHealth (ADHD)Donation-based (non-profit)n/aNetherlands
AngelMDHealth (General)Equity-based (for-profit)No Investor FeeUSA
BenefunderGeneralDonation-based (non-profit)10%USA
B-a-MedFounderHealth (Medical Devices)Equity- or Rewards-based (for-profit)4.5%-10%Cyprus
Capital CellHealth + BiotechEquity-based (for-profit)5%-7%Spain
The Common GoodHealth (Prince Charles Hospital Foundation)Donation-based (non-profit)n/aAustralia
ConsanoHealth (General)Donation-based (non-profit)No FeeUSA
DigVenturesArchaeologyDonation-based (for-profit)4%-9%United Kingdom
Donors CureHealth (General)Donation-based (non-profit)8%USA
EndeavoristGeneralDonation-based (for-profit)n/aUSA
ExperimentGeneralDonation-based (non-profit)5%USA
Funds4ResearchHealth (Rare Diseases)Donation-based (non-profit)n/aSpain
Fiat PhysicaPhysics & AstronomyDonation-based15%USA
FundScience AustraliaGeneralDonation-based (non-profit)No FeeAustralia
FutSciGeneralDonation-based (for-profit)7%United Kingdom
HealthFundrHealth (General)Equity-based (for-profit)VariableUSA
HealthiosXchangeHealth (General)Equity-based (for-profit)VariableUSA
ILoveScienceGeneralDonation-based (for-profit)10%Spain
InstrumentlGeneralDonation-based (for-profit)8%USA
LabfundrGeneralDonation-based (for-profit)9%Canada
MedStartrHealth (General)Donation-based5%-8%USA
Lifespan.ioHealth (Aging)Donation-based5%-12%USA
MyPharmaCompanyHealthRoyalty-based (funds specific products)n/aFrance
MyProjectsHealth (Cancer)Donation-based (non-profit)No FeeUnited Kingdom
PoliwoggHealth & Life SciencesEquity-based (for-profit)No Investor FeeUSA
PozibleGeneralDonation-based (for-profit)5%Australia
PrecipitaGeneralDonation-based (non-profit)2%Spain
Rare Genomics InstituteHealth (Rare Diseases)Donation-based (non-profit)No FeesUSA
Research Funder NIHealth (Cancer)Donation-based (non-profit)No FeesUnited Kingdom (Northern Ireland)
Science StarterGeneralDonation-based (non-profit)n/aGermany
ScienceVestLife SciencesEquity-based (for-profit) - accredited investors only15% carried interest on investments under US$50,000USA
ShareInGeneral (Tech & Health)Equity-based (for-profit)3%-5%United Kingdom
Sound AffectsHealth (Cancer)Donation-based (non-profit)10%USA
Springboard EquityHealthEquity-based (for-profit)n/aUSA
StartACureHealth (Cancer)Donation-based (non-profit)5%USA
TechnoFundingGeneralDonation-based (for-profit)5%United Kingdom
ThinkableGeneralDonation-based (for-profit)10%Australia
WalaceaGeneralDonation-based5%United Kingdom
WellfundrHealthDonation-based + Equity-based (for-profit)5%France
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