A new paradigm for drug discovery: part two – tapping into online sources of funding to support your research project

Dr Kevin Lustig and Dr Maria Thompson

&nbsp,

Assay Depot

&nbsp,

In part two of our four part series on the changing face of life science research, Dr Kevin Lustig and Dr Maria Thompson discuss how scientists can raise money to support research projects through new and innovative means.

&nbsp,

(Continued from “A new paradigm for drug discovery: part one – how the information age is transforming biological research”)

&nbsp,

Drug discovery and life science research are changing before our very eyes. In part one of this series, we discussed how the mass of raw data now available online, and free for anyone to access, had reached a critical mass. Moreover, that mass of data has enabled some forward thinking scientists to abandon wet lab work almost entirely and turn instead to data mining to make new discoveries and new inventions.

&nbsp,

In this second part of our series, we will discuss how new funding channels are opening up thanks to a mix of social media and Internet enabled connectivity. We will be looking at the different channels that enable scientists (and non scientists) to find funding to support their research, bypassing the traditional funding channels entirely.

&nbsp,

&nbsp,

“…the biggest barrier to entry for anyone contemplating a scientific endeavour is how to fund your project.”

&nbsp,

&nbsp,

Science is an expensive business, and probably the biggest barrier to entry for anyone contemplating a scientific endeavour is how to fund your project. All life science projects require two things (besides a hard working, passionate advocate):

1. Facilities, a place to work including all the necessary equipment, technology and hardware

2. Funds, money to pay for all the consumable and other stuff you need to run the research project

Below we discuss how to get your hands on both of these necessities if you have a good, testable idea (see part 1 of the series on how to come up with good ideas).

&nbsp,

1. Facilities

&nbsp,

The ideal situation would be to find some space already set up with common lab equipment and populated with like-minded people that can help advise and discuss your project. Sound like a pipe dream? Well depending on where you live this might be easier than you think. In fact many large cities, especially those with a significant science and technology industry (computers, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, etc.), already have community labs set up where anyone interested in pursuing a research project of their own can go. Examples in the United States include:

• Biocurious in Sunnyvale, Ca. (biocurious.org)

• Bio, Tech and Beyond in Carlsbad, Ca. (biotechnbeyond.com)

• Genspace in Brooklyn, NY (genspace.org)

In fact, since Genspace opened the first community lab in 2010 they have been springing up across the globe. Diybio.org now lists over 30 meetup groups / community labs in cities across the globe, a number that grows month by month.

&nbsp,

&nbsp,

“Depending on the type of project you have in mind, there are many crowd funding bodies that you can appeal to.”

&nbsp,

&nbsp,

If you don’t happen to have access to one of the growing number of community labs then take a leaf from some of the young entrepreneurs setting up labs in their garage (in their mother’s spare bedroom in the case of Cathal Garvey (pictured below).

&nbsp,

Figure 1: Do-it-yourself: Cathal Garvey, 26, poses in the biology laboratory he created in his mother’s spare bedroom. Source: MIT Technology Review. Feb. 2012

Once you’ve figured out your space requirements, it’s time to start looking for some funds. After all, you have an ambitious project in mind and all kinds of equipment and consumables you need to buy. Time to find someone to pay for it all…

&nbsp,

2. Funds

&nbsp,

Whether you’re a citizen scientist wanting to strike out on your own, or you already work in a formal lab setting and just need someone to fund a project, the number of funding avenues open to you are greater now than at any other time.

&nbsp,

Depending on the type of project you have in mind, there are many crowd funding bodies that you can appeal to. Indeed if you’re still thinking about the precise nature of your project, you may want to take a look at the available sources of funding and use the availability of funds in a particular field to help narrow down your project.

&nbsp,

There are many patient advocacy groups and research foundations that fund research on specific diseases. An excellent example is the Rare Genomics Institute, a non profit organization that crowdsources funds to sequence the genome of children with rare diseases. “Rare diseases” are diseases that affect &lt, 200,000 Americans or &lt, 250,000 Europeans at any one time. There are an estimated 350 million people worldwide currently affected with a rare disease. Once the genetic mutation is identified, the Institute helps to assemble a team of volunteer researchers that craft a personalized research plan for the afflicted child. Non profits like the Rare Genomics Institute play a critical role in rare disease research. The prevalence of rare diseases is so low that most pharmaceutical companies have shown little interest in developing drugs to treat them.

&nbsp,

&nbsp,

“There are many patient advocacy groups and research foundations that fund research on specific diseases.”

&nbsp,

&nbsp,

It is worth taking note of this example and understanding what it tells us about crowd funding overall. If your project is aimed at a mainstream disease, such as lung cancer or heart disease, your chances of finding funding may be lower. Mainstream diseases are already subject to massive research efforts within academia and industry. Step outside of the mainstream where there is little research being done, however, and your chances of finding a specific funding body willing to help you increases dramatically.

&nbsp,

What if your research project is not about curing a rare disease but has other goals? Well there is a wealth of science crowd funding sites out there to help you too. The best known and arguably the most successful is KickStarter (www.kickstarter.com), a dedicated crowd funding site that allows anyone to raise money from the public for creative projects. If you are an academic, citizen or professional scientist raising money for a scientific research project, you can also crowd fund using Microryza (www.microryza.com) or PetriDish (www.petridish.org).

&nbsp,

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention equity crowd funding, which might just be the biggest boon to scientific research since the founding of the US National Institutes of Health. Starting in late 2013 or early 2014 as part of the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, US companies will be able to raise up to $1,000,000 per year from individual investors. Rather than getting some sort of reward as with Kickstarter, investors will receive shares in the company. Investors can support their favorite scientific cause (Curing Alzheimer’s? Eradicating childhood leukemia?) and earn an excellent return in the process!

&nbsp,

In our third article, we’ll discuss how having secured your funding, you can go about finding, hiring, and subcontracting to get the actual work done.

&nbsp,

You can view part three in this series here

&nbsp,

pharmaphorum-facebook

&nbsp,

About the authors:

&nbsp,

Kevin Lustig is co-founder and CEO of Assay Depot, the world’s largest online marketplace for scientific services. In 2001, he founded Kalypsys, a drug discovery company that raised over $170 million in venture capital. Prior to this, he directed lead discovery at Tularik, a biopharmaceutical company purchased by Amgen in 2004 for $2.5 billion. Kevin has over 30 years of research experience including a postdoc at Harvard Medical School and a PhD degree in biochemistry from UCSF. His research discoveries have been published in Science and Nature magazines and he has been awarded eight technology patents. Dr Lustig can be contacted at klustig@assaydepot.com and more information about Assay Depot can be found at www.assaydepot.com

&nbsp,

Dr Maria Thompson is a molecular biologist with over 16 years of experience in research and development for pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. Over this period she has held a variety of leadership positions including Head of Genome Wide Screening for Type 2 diabetes, Six Sigma Black Belt, and VP of Scientific Affairs. Dr Thompson is currently Principal Consultant at APEX think, a niche consulting company providing scientific and technical advisory services to clients across the life science industry. Dr Thompson holds a BSc in Genetics and a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry from the Royal London School of Medicine, UK. She can be contacted at: consulting.mt@gmail.com or www.APEXthink.com

&nbsp,

How can scientists find funding to support research projects?