NO, I WON’T SPONSOR YOUR RACE FOR THE CURE
I stopped supporting cancer charities when my father died in 2013. That makes complete sense, right? It made sense to me. Yes, I was frustrated, sad, and angry…but this wasn’t an emotional or irrational decision. Why continue something that was having no impact?
The treatment my father received wasn’t much different from my grandfather’s treatment 30 years earlier. The outcome was worse. The cost was so high that it financially devastated my parents.
But, there’s more to the story.
I’ve Seen ‘Cures’ for Cancer.
Around 2003, I’d recently become an angel investor – someone who invests in startup businesses. I dragged my father to meet a doctor that was looking for funding to launch a cancer therapy he’d developed. Little did I know that five years later, my dad would be diagnosed with cancer and I would lose him not long after.
I was skeptical. Even though the introduction came through a trusted family friend, a doctor and successful entrepreneur in medical technology, I’d have already heard about it in the news if it were really a cure for cancer. Right?
After meeting several of the doctor’s former patients, my father and I were astounded. These people had been diagnosed with Stage 4 terminal cancer and they claimed to be in complete remission.
Think about that for a minute. By the time we met them, they’d been cancer free for more than five years – they’d been ‘cured’.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t invest in the company. I’ll share that story another time. I’ll also tell you why my father didn’t have access to that therapy after his diagnosis. I may even share more about the many promising preventions, treatments, cures, and enabling solutions I’ve seen since 2003.
In 2018, more than 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. More than 600,000 people will die. That will happen again in 2019. And 2020. And 2021. And forever unless something changes.
Sitting idly by and counting on others to change the future of cancer isn’t working. Or, at least it’s not working for me….anymore.
A Race to Nowhere?
Like millions of others, I gave cancer research donations, supported friends Racing for the Cure and so on. Life was good. I was doing my part. I slept soundly at night. I believed that my donations to cancer charities were being spent to develop preventions, therapies, and cures. I imagined it worked something like this…
Donors like you and me give, research universities use our donations to search for a cure and big companies use that research to develop new, life saving treatments, and the person you care about lives a long and happy life.
Maybe research is just one step of many to actually prevent or cure cancer.
Each year, billions of dollars flow into cancer research, cancer charities and so on. Looking at the National Cancer Institute, the federal agency funded with our tax dollars, I counted over $122 billion since it was formed in 1938. The funding for 2017 alone was $5.38 billion. NCI funds a wide range of programs including children’s cancer research, breast cancer research, lymphoma research, lung cancer research, leukemia research and ovarian cancer research, and more.
Beyond NCI, there are is also the billions of dollars in annual research that is funded by cancer charities and industry. I had a harder time coming up with a precise number there, but I estimate that it’s about equal NCI’s annual budget. That means more than $10B is spent on cancer research in the U.S. alone, every year. Yes, $10B each year. Just in the U.S.
What happens to that research?
Research + Funding = Cure.
The equation of research-plus-funding-equals-cure isn’t obvious. If we want to have an impact – to truly race not for a cure but toward a cure, we need to support real-world, promising innovation.
The real breakthroughs are coming from innovative entrepreneurs and scrappy start-ups. But, early-stage funding for any venture is scarce, and funding for start-up companies working on cancer innovations is almost non-existent.
Without funding to bring these innovations to life, the hundreds of billions we spend on research will never help anyone.
Research alone does NOT equal impact.
So, What Can I Do?
Before the chemo zapped his energy, my father would often complain about taxes, healthcare, or something. As an adult, I always loved challenging him with the same questions he’d asked me as a kid when I complained about something, “so, what can you do about it?”
After my father and I met the doctor and his ‘cured patients’ it became clear. The problem wasn’t research or research funding, that cycle was and is working as it should. The problem is what happens next and who funds it. Or, rather who isn’t funding it.
The reality is that institutional investors, investment managers, and fund managers can’t put their clients money into these high-risk companies. Aside from being career suicide, they’d risk getting sued, and possibly end up in prison. This means self-directed investors – people managing their own investments – are probably the only viable option.
I’ve met some amazing people on this journey, including two self-directed investors who each invested over five million dollars into startup companies commercializing cancer therapies. I was inspired by these cancer impact investors. I wanted to be like them, I still do. But, I don’t have millions to invest. And, my guess is that it’s going to take more than two people and ten million dollars to change the future of cancer. Seems like someone should do something about that.
So, what can I do?
Invest in the Change You Want to See in the World.
I know it’s debatable whether or not Ghandi actually said, “be the change you want to see in the world”, but it doesn’t matter to me. It makes for a good bumper sticker and even better advice. Whether it came from Ghandi or my Grandma, I’m following it.
I’m not a billionaire like Bill gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, or the rest of the folks that have taken the Giving Pledge (www.GivingPledge.org). But, that doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have a responsibility to try to make a difference.
I may not have billions, or even millions, to invest but I do have a desire to help. Actually, I feel like it’s my obligation to help. If I had more money and were European, I think that would be called noblesse oblige. But like shadenfreude, I guess there’s no equivalent word in our American vocabularies because that feeling isn’t yet prominent enough to get it’s own word like “hangry”.
It became clear what I could do…what I am obligated to do.
Venture Funds for Soccer Moms…and Dads Too.
I’ve developed many great relationships as I’ve been figuring out what I could do to help impact cancer.
I might have missed it if not for a friend helped me realize that I’d unintentionally built a community of like-minded people and that together, we could make possibly make a big difference.
The group already includes moms, sisters, daughters and friends of those who’ve had cancer, have cancer, or will do anything possible to prevent it from occurring. It also includes some very experienced investors, scientists, and doctors. I know we’re not the only ones. If we grew this community, we could possibly have a significant impact.
Mainstream America is powerful. We donate $300+ billion each year to charitable organizations, including cancer research. This dwarfs the giving of all of the billionaires in the giving pledge.
If coordinating the funds we donate for cancer research and begin investing in the commercialization of that research, I believe we can create massive change.
If only it were that simple, right?
A New Vision for Cancer Innovation
“To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.”
Thomas Watson, Sr., former CEO, IBM
We created the Cancer Impact Fund to invest in early stage companies developing cancer preventions, therapies, possible cures, and enabling technologies or solutions.
We engage patients, providers, payers, and policymakers to identify the most impactful cancer related problems to solve.
We collaborate with cancer researchers, foundations, and funders to drive innovations from research into the commercialization process.
For soccer moms and dads, like me, we’ve made it simple to invest in cancer innovation.
If you are like us, and want to make a difference click here to contact us.