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Venture Philanthropy Backs Diabetes Research Start-ups

Partnership: Diabetes advocacy group joins forces with PureTech to spur treatment-focused firms

by Lisa M. Jarvis
October 17, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 42

Patient advocacy groups are continuing to push the boundaries of venture philanthropy, which enables them to invest in for-profit firms in order to reach their charitable goals. JDRF, a type 1 diabetes-focused nonprofit, and life sciences development firm PureTech Ventures will launch T1D Innovations, a financial vehicle for the creation of drug discovery companies that target type 1 diabetes.

In recent years, many disease advocacy groups have moved from providing grants for basic research to directly funding drug firms. That shift has helped fill a once-empty pipeline for many diseases.

Still, “we didn’t feel like this went far enough,” says PureTech partner David Steinberg. Under the previous model, advocacy groups had to wait until a promising project morphed into a company before they could invest in it. As a consequence, Steinberg notes, “a lot of good ideas were left on the cutting-room floor.”

JDRF has committed $5 million to T1D Innovations, which will form companies, often out of academia, focused on type 1 diabetes therapies, diagnostics, devices, and even apps. PureTech is now seeking other investors, with a goal of securing up to $30 million.

Start-ups will conduct proof-of-concept experiments. The data generated will ideally attract more venture money or a strategic partner to further develop the project.

Other patient advocacy groups will be watching. “We’ve certainly considered a partnership like the one that JDRF has done,” says Louis J. DeGennaro, chief mission officer of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which is exploring legal and organizational issues involved.


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