NEW MODEL TO FIND CURES FOR MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Is there a viable new funding model to accelerate the
development of treatments for multiple sclerosis and could it work for other
Welcome to the Business of Medicine on ReachMD XM 157, the
channel for medical professionals.
Dr. Bruce Bloom.
Dr. Timothy Coetzee.
Joining us to discuss a new model to find cures for multiple
sclerosis more quickly is Dr. Timothy Coetzee, executive director of Fast
Forward LLC, venture philanthropy of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Dr. Coetzee is responsible for the society’s strategic funding of biotechnology
and pharmaceutical companies as well as partnership with the financial and
Dr. Coetzee, welcome to ReachMD.
It's a pleasure to be with you, Bruce.
So tell me what is Fast Forward LLC.
Fast Forward is basically a part of the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society. We are wholly owned subsidiary of the MS Society that was
established last year specifically to fund companies that are engaged in
innovative and exciting new therapy development or developing diagnostics for
people with MS.
How is it different from the rest of the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society and why does it have the LLC structure.
It's different from the society’s larger programs in that
Fast Forward is exclusively focused on funding research at commercial
organizations. Now, the society is a national organization that was founded a
number of years ago and has a blended mission of promoting research and funding
research at universities, but also providing programs and services and
information for people with MS, and so while the Society does a broad range of
things and research being an important one, Fast Forward is exclusively focused
on research at commercial organizations and also the Society's existing
research programs continue to be focused on universities and reason for that is
that much of the discoveries that happen that become new drugs and therapies,
happen at the university, but we need somebody to translate that over to the
commercial sector and that's the role that Fast Forward is going to play. Then
you are asking what does the LLC stand for? Basically that means we are a
“Limited Liability Company” and essentially it's a corporate designation for
How long over you formed?
About a year ago, last October we officially launched the
creation of Fast Forward and so we are reaching our anniversary later this
How long before that this idea come to the MS society and
how long did it take before you were launched?
It took us about a year and half to really think hard and
work at creating Fast Forward and the original idea for Fast Forward came with
Dr. John Rickert who is the executive Vice President of the Society’s research
and clinical programs and John was an academic research at Georgetown University
and had seen lots of MS patients and when he came to the society to take over
the executive leadership of our research programs, he wanted to continue
supporting our traditional university research programs, but felt that there
are opportunities in the commercial sector that the society may be able to
facilitate with some strategic application of funds and so we started looking
at what would be the needs, if there are needs for something like Fast Forward,
building through the internal consensus to launch in this new direction because
for a number of years we had only supported universities and so to make the
move into supporting a company with some of our resources, it was a big step
for us and we needed to think through carefully and so it took about a year and
half of studying, understanding, talking to other nonprofit organizations that
were using a similar model for their disease to figure out what was the right
model, the right strategy and funding paradigm for us to use. So it is very
deliberative, but at the end of the day our board uniformly endorsed the
creation of Fast Forward and adopting this as another module in the Society
strategy for solving the disease.
What is your function with Fast Forward? Who are your
partners in management and what is your background?
Officially, I am the Executive Director of Fast Forward, so
I essentially have the responsibility for all the daily operations and that
spans again some talking to companies, to going out in fund raising, keeping
the books "The Whole 9 Yards." My partners in this; I have a small
team, I have a colleague who works closely with me, Dr. Andrea Tobias, who is
formerly a life sciences venture capitalist who now works with us to help us
with the opportunities that come to us; and then I have some fund raiser and
some operation folks working with us. My background; I am a scientist by
training. I have received my PhD in molecular biology and then started working
in MS research shortly after that, initially working down at the University of
North Carolina as an MS researcher, and actually that's how I was introduced to
the MS society. Society supported my training as a young scientist. Then
after that I went to work at the University of Connecticut and had a faculty
position there for a couple of years before I joined the Society about 8 years
In the materials that you distribute, you write we are
taking a business approach to speeding development of treatments and seeking a
cure for people living with multiple sclerosis. Tell us what that means?
Sure. The model that we are using obviously is as you said
in our introduction a bit more venture like and essentially our model looks at
whether or not the company not only has great science, but whether they have a
management team and a client in place to actually take their concepts in their
drugs or diagnostics or medical device and actually bringing it to people with
the MS quickly and so you know what that means in a practical sense is that
when we receive a proposal we don't just look at the science. Science is
absolutely critical. Doesn't matter how good a management team is if the
science isn't good, the proposal is not going to go anywhere, but what we do is
we ask the question if this is superlative science and the best science
possible and really it can have an impact for people with MS, is there a plan
and a strategy in place for, how are we going to test it, how are we going to
validate it, how will we move this therapy into production and lead it to the
place where it will come to people with MS faster, and our vision for faster is
that what we want to do is shorten the amount of time it takes for a company to
achieve a particular set of objectives. We aren't aiming to replace all of the
funding that a company needs in order to develop a drug. Developing drugs is
very expensive and takes time, and some of the time that companies spend is
going out and raising capital. I am trying to persuade people that this is
important. What we are trying to do is provide a quick time line, a quick
review so that a company can know from us yes we will support you and so
perhaps save 6 or 8 months off of a particular research program where the
company would have spent their time going out and trying to persuade other
people to give them money, and so when we talk about faster, that's what we
If you are just tuning in, you are listening to the Business
of Medicine on ReachMD XM 157, the channel for medical professionals. I am
your host Dr. Bruce Bloom and joining me to discuss a new model to find cures
more quickly for MS is Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Executive Director of Fast Forward
LLC, a venture philanthropy of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
So who else is required for you to do your work? I see
there is a board of managers and a board of science advisors, what do each of
those groups do?
Our board of managers is essentially our board and so that
is drawn from individuals who are on the Society’s national board of directors
and they are a mixture of business people as well as physicians and they
provide governance for the organization. They provide oversight, they help
advice and run the organization, and importantly they also represent a
connection to people with MS. Five of the members of my board of managers
actually are individuals who themselves everyday live with the disease. Our scientific
and business advisors are a mixture of individuals who help us assess a
particular company both from a scientific and business point of view and what
they do is when a company approaches us and we secure a proposal from them, the
scientific and business advisors actually will assess it and look at the
science and look at the business. On the science side, we have world experts
from both clinical aspects of MS as well as a variety of research disciplines
in MS, and then on the business side we have individuals that comes from the
venture capital arena, from actual working in industry, individuals who have
expertise on the business side of what it takes to develop a drug and it's this
combination of individuals that help us make an assessment about whether or not
a particular company is right for Fast Forward. On the science side, we have
drawn an international group of individuals. On the business side, we have
primarily individuals drawn from the United States, but we are aiming to expand
ourselves so that we have an international representation as well in terms of
individuals from the business side of the equation and mostly that reflects a
philosophy that Fast Forward has and also reflects the society's philosophy
that the cure for MS would come from anywhere and so we are not just limiting
ourselves looking at companies in the United States, but actually looking
internationally because we don't know where the cure for MS may come or where
the most effective next generation of drugs may come. So we take an
international approach to our work.
This is venture philanthropy. How come the market isn't
doing what Fast Forward is doing? Why don't just rely on the venture
philanthropy market to decide this is a good idea to make money?
Now, that's an excellent question. One of the things is you
look at the world and you hear that there is so much money in venture capital
and also private equity firms. There are a couple of pieces to that. One is
you have to bear in mind that it takes these days on average anywhere from 800
million to a billion dollars to develop a drug, and that's not true just for
MS, that's for all diseases, and so there are a lot of stages along the way
where there is a lot of risk and potential where a drug could fail and one of
the reasons why something like Fast Forward needs to exist is that the existing
capital markets, venture capital and private equity markets are driven for a
return in a relatively short period of time, 3 to 5 years and that's fine but
the reality is that for most drug development programs 3 to 5 years is really
not enough time because it does take 10 to 12 years to develop a drug; and so
what Fast Forward aims to do is say we don't need to replace those markets and
the role that venture capital and private equity places in developing drugs.
What we aim to do is give companies that are developing MS therapies a leg up
on all the other competition that it is clamoring to those organizations for
support and remember that a venture group is looking at both life sciences,
biotechnology, we see the emergence of clean tech and green technology and so
these groups are getting hit with thousands of proposals. The MS companies are
in there too. What we are trying to do is say keep doing what you are doing,
but if you are working on MS, we want to give you some additional capital to
give you a competitive advantage over the other 900 companies, for example,
that are applying to particularly venture capital group for support. We do not
aim to replace them, it's really about giving MS a chance because we believe
that it is important that somebody speak up and represent the interest of
people with MS in the private sector.
I would like to thank our guest, Dr. Timothy Coetzee from Fast
Forward LLC. We had been discussing a new model to find cures more quickly for
multiple sclerosis. You have been listening to the Business of Medicine on
ReachMD XM 157, the channel for medical professionals.
For a complete program guide and podcasts, visit www.reachmd.com.
For comments or questions, call us toll free at 888MD XM 157. Thank you for
This is Dr. Philip Ninan with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in
Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and you are listening to ReachMD XM 157, the
channel for medical professionals.