JDRF’s innovative approach to driving more funds into type 1 diabetes (T1D) medical advances caught the attention of the WSJ, which ran a feature article on how the Fund is leading a growing movement in nonprofits to wield greater influence inside the startup ecosystem.
“The kind of education and support these groups can bring is pretty powerful,” Armon Sharei, chief executive of SQZ Biotechnologies Co., a developer of cellular therapies backed by the JDRF T1D Fund and other investors told the WSJ. “Their investment was catalytic in getting us to look at Type 1 diabetes.”
JDRF launched the Fund in 2016 as an innovative venture philanthropy fund using a cutting-edge approach to catalyze an investment market in T1D that has brought new talent, thinking and capital to the T1D fight.
At the time, venture capitalists weren’t investing much in treatments for T1D, Fund Chairman Sean Doherty told the WSJ. Investors may lack interest in the disease, he said, in part because of a perception patients can cure their condition by taking insulin.
But, he added, curing T1D is critical because the complications are dangerous, and billions of dollars will be needed to conquer it.
“Philanthropy on its own will not cure [this] disease,” Doherty said.
Sharei said his firm focused most of its research on cancer. But, a 2017 investment from the T1D Fund created an incentive to also use its technology to develop a cellular therapy that could allow the immune system to tolerate insulin-making cells rather than attack them.
Another firm, ImmusanT Inc., tapped the Fund to revive work on developing a vaccine treatment for T1D. While viable, the work was tabled in favor of work on celiac disease.
The T1D Fund has “given life to the program,” said ImmusanT CEO Leslie Williams.
To date, the Fund has about $80 million committed from donors and has invested in 13 companies working on T1D. Returned capital and gains will be reinvested in the Fund’s mission.