When one thinks of crowdfunding, the first thing that comes to mind is a way to give to a needy friend or neighbor, new means of supporting a young musician or artist, or perhaps to provide seed money for a startup company. The last thing one would think of would be crowdfunding for cancer-fighting innovations – unless you’re Dr. Mona Jhaveri.
Frustrated by the lack of funding for biotechnologies, Dr. Jhaveri left her career in medical research to become a pioneer in cancer funding. Traditionally, medical research receives adequate funding, mostly from government sources and charitable nonprofits and foundations. However, very little of this is dedicated to commercializing research ideas that promise to improve treatment outcomes for patients. Dr. Jhaveri wanted to create a new funding path where donated dollars could also land in the hands of biotech innovators working on advancing cancer-fighting solutions for the clinic.
Every pioneer faces challenges, and Dr. Jhaveri was no exception. Dr. Jhaveri faced an uphill battle to educate people about the role of biotech in fighting diseases and the lack of funding for promising biomedical innovations, and how this impedes the war on cancer. Her perseverance led her to create the successful crowdfunding platform Music Beats Cancer.
Disrupting the System with Crowdfunding
Auspicious cancer-fighting ideas too often fail to get off the ground because of a funding bottleneck that prohibits them from advancing down the commercialization path and becoming real medicine. The biomedical community calls this funding gap the “Valley of Death,” a metaphorical place where great ideas die due to a lack of requisite funds.
To find new and creative ways to disrupt the system, Dr. Jhaveri set a goal to bridge the Valley of Death for hundreds of biotech and medtech startup innovators.
“As a public, we have been fighting the war on cancer since Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971,” says Dr. Jhaveri. “Yet, treatment for many cancers, especially metastatic disease, is still unchanged. We invest billions of dollars into basic research each year, but great ideas are slow to advance to the clinic. Our crowdfunding platform, Music Beats Cancer, can change this by enabling biotech innovators to raise funds through the charitable donations of the crowd, helping them advance through the Valley of Death. This is why we are different.”
Crowdfunding for Cancer Research
With the top priority of educating the public about the Valley of Death and its impact on cancer research, Dr. Jhaveri searched for ways to raise funds and reach the masses. That’s when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge stepped in and provided inspiration.
In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised $115 million in donations, massively increasing the ALS Association’s capacity to research. It not only raised awareness of the condition; it unified the public to crowdfund for a worthy cause. It was this Ice Bucket Challenge that inspired Dr. Jhaveri.
Dr. Jhaveri created a similar crowdfunding concept that could make millions of people aware of the Valley of Death and empower them to contribute to cancer-fighting innovations they found worthy and interesting.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge successfully aligned people to a common cause. Dr. Jhaveri understood reaching the public would require some help. She initially ventured out to collaborate with celebrity artists to increase her outreach. “I’m not a musician, but I became convinced that music could be the medium for getting our message out there,” said Dr. Jhaveri.
Connecting with celebrities proved to be challenging, expensive, and risky, so she approached independent artists instead and was pleased to find these musicians accessible, authentic, and willing to support our worthy cause. “Independent artists became our collective voice for bringing biomedical science and innovation to the public,” she said.
Crowdfunding for Innovation
Dr. Jhaveri says, “Most of us still think of research in terms of ‘finding a cure,’ not realizing that many innovative ideas for addressing disease already exist. But they need timely funding for these innovations to advance and help the patients who need them.”
Music Beats Cancer is unlike traditional cancer charities. It exclusively supports health tech entrepreneurs working on cancer-fighting technologies. Its crowdfunding model allows donors to give directly to innovations working on solutions that are meaningful to them, such as new treatments, diagnostics, and prevention tools. Each quarter, donors receive updates on the campaign’s progress. This model of transparency stands in stark contrast to grant-making models, where committees decide on money distribution and rarely share research outcomes with donors.
“Crowdfunding offers an opportunity to raise money to help these innovations through the Valley of Death,” explains Jhaveri. “In addition, crowdfunding educates on discoveries and gives the public a stake in the outcomes. To date, the community of biotech innovation has been siloed from public engagement, which is a mistake. The more support we offer cancer-fighting entrepreneurs, the more likely those solutions will make it to those who could benefit.”
Dr. Mona Jhaveri is the founder, executive director, and chairman of the board at Music Beats Cancer. She launched the nonprofit to address the “Valley of Death,” the growing gap in funding that constrains the translation of cancer research discoveries into clinical applications. Before Music Beats Cancer, Jhaveri founded Foligo Therapeutics, Inc. in 2005 to develop and commercialize a DNA-based therapeutic compound as a potential treatment for ovarian cancer. Jhaveri holds a doctorate in biochemistry from the Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University.