A MODEL TO BRING MS
RESEARCH TO BEDSIDE FASTER
With thousands of diseases competing for investment
resources, some of the most promising discoveries in the lab may never be
translated. Fast Forward LLC is trying to change that with their new models to
expedite cures for multiple sclerosis.
Welcome to the Business of Medicine on ReachMD XM 157. I
am your host Dr. Bruce Bloom. Joining us to discuss the financial aspects of a
new model trying to expedite cures for multiple sclerosis is Dr. Timothy
Coetzee, Executive Director of Fast Forward LLC, a 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 partnerships with the financial and business communities.
Dr. Coetzee, welcome to ReachMD.
It's a pleasure to be with you, Bruce.
Fast Forward is essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of the
MS Society. So we are separate part of large patient advocacy organization and
the MS Society represents and serves all people with MS in the United States as
well as throughout the world and the society provides programs and services for
individuals throughout the country to both learn and manage their disease and
at the same time support research to discover and ultimately cure the disease.
The way Fast Forward works is that Fast Forward supports that mission, but
takes it one step further by deploying our resources to support research that's
happening in the private sector and at commercial organizations and essentially
supporting drug development in the private sector and taking the society's
research efforts just one step further.
Are you a for-profit or a non-profit and if you are a
for-profit, what's the point of you being for-profit owned by the
not-for-profit National Multiple Sclerosis Society?
Well, there were two reasons, one of which was legal and one
of which was strategic. On the legal side, as we were thinking about how to
approach the business of Fast Forward, we looked at what others health charities
were doing and asked a question of them why did they approach setting up their
commercial activities, their commercial funding activities as separate entities
or separate subsidiaries of the parent organizations, and really like you said,
it's a business decision in the sense that we are going to be supporting
commercial organizations and that sometimes unfortunate things happen and so
if, you know, we were to find ourselves on the receiving end of some legal
action, Fast Forward would be the recipient of that and not the National MS
Society, and that's a model that some other health charities have used. Of
course, we hope that never happens, but as a business decision we thought that
for legal and liability reasons that it was wise to separate the commercial
aspects of Fast Forward's work from the rest of the society's activities. We
also thought it was important to clearly separate the funding work that the
society would be doing for universities, which comes through the National MS
Society's programs from the commercial activities that would be funding
companies through the Fast Forward and we felt that having a separate
organization would send a clear message that, you know, Fast Forward is only
about companies and that is our exclusive focus and that keeping those separate
is important because these days we know that universities and the research
enterprises as a whole feels particularly strained and so we just wanted to
make sure that people were clearly in understanding what Fast Forward was about.
Where does your funding come from and how much do you
currently have to deploy?
So our funding comes primarily from seed funding from the
National MS Society, from the parent organization, and we raise that fund to
philanthropic organizations. In the coming year, we expect to deploy about 1.5
to 2 million dollars to support specific company opportunities and then we aim
to grow that over the next 5 years so that we can deploy 30 million dollars to
support commercial activities through 2012. We are starting small, so we are a
start-up and so we are being very modest in our initial investments partially
because what we want to do is we want to get it right. We want to learn and
this is a new endeavor for the society and so we are being very targeted in our
investments, being very focussed at doing a smaller number of strategic investments
with an eye towards setting a process and setting a standard in place that we
can scale over the next few years.
And how many submissions or how many companies have you
looked at and can you tell us about some of the details of those kinds of
companies and the research that they are doing?
Sure, the way our process works is, we go through several
stages. We have strategic conversations with companies and then follow that
with deeper due diligence. So over the past year we have talked to close to 40
companies now that are involved in some sort of process for developing a
therapy or diagnostic for people with MS. We have windowed that down to around
10 that we have received proposals from and now have completed our in-depth diligence
on 3 opportunities and within the next 6 to 8 weeks expect to announce our
first funded company. The types of companies we are seeing, really range a
gamut. Without naming specific companies, I can tell you that a number of them
are involved in developing novel immune therapies for managing the immune
system in MS in a very targeted manner, and so the reason that excites us is
that the current sets of therapies are broad spectrum. They control the immune
system very generally and neurologists would really like to have a therapy
where they can target specifically to the cells that are the bad actors in MS.
Some of the companies we are looking at have created targeted therapies.
Others are involved in regenerative stem cell therapies. We have several that
are looking at diagnostics and using genomic technology to try to track and
monitor progression in the disease and that for us has been one of the pleasant
surprises in that we've all heard about the explosion of genomics and the
importance of genetics as well as all the different -omics as they call them,
we are now beginning to see several companies that are beginning to employ that
technology to try to have very targeted understanding of what's happening in MS
and for us that's very exciting because it will give the physicians a new set
of tools potentially to manage the disease.
If you have just tuned 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 the new models for
expediting cures for MS is Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Executive Director of Fast
Forward LLC, a venture philanthropy of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
So there are two different groups of people involved and
initially I and my partner Dr. Andrew Tobias will do an initial vetting of an
opportunity with the company. Then we will, if after initial presentation to
us we feel that the opportunity meets, you know, our criteria and that it will
make a difference for people with MS, we pull together a team of our scientific
and business advisors and what we do is we select individuals who have the
right expertise to assess the company from a scientific standpoint as well as
individuals who can bring us the right kind of business expertise; they will
come together and evaluate a complete proposal and we ask companies to come and
present to us and so this is via conference call. We will have a full
presentation, a lot of Q&A and dialogue between the company and a review
team; after the conclusion of that, the review team will tell us whether or not
they think it's worth funding and I'll take that to my board for a final
decision. That process is very intensive. We ask for not just the proposal,
but a lot of information about the resources the company has in play, who are
their financial partners, what does the management team look like, the
intellectual property underlying the therapy, all of that is a classic, kind of
due diligence that a venture capital group would use, and the reason we are doing
that is we want to make sure that there are no surprises and that the
management team really is strong, that they follow us through that they have
the resources in place. That it's really important to us that besides their
being money from the MS Society and Fast Forward that the company actually have
supporting funding around it so that our funds are leveraged alongside other
individuals. All in total the process can take anywhere from 3 to 4 months
from start to finish and we aim to shorten that down. It's still shorter than
what would happen if the company were to perhaps go through a traditional grant
route, but our goal would to be able to complete an entire process, review
process within 3 months.
I would like to thank our guest, Dr. Timothy Coetzee from
Fast Forward LLC. We have been discussing the aspects of a new model to find
cures more quickly for multiple sclerosis.
You've been listening to the Business of Medicine on
ReachMD XM 157, The Channel for Medical Professionals. For complete program
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