If lesser-known scientists could secure funding for their medical research projects and people could donate directly to those studies, it may be the perfect recipe to fuel health breakthroughs.
That’s the idea behind molecures.com.
Loana Baes launched the medical research crowdfunding platform last month. It connects researchers and donors in order to fund medical research, mostly pertaining to cancer.
The project’s germination began when Baes was completing her executive MBA program at the University of Chicago last year. One of the projects was to come up with a business idea.
Knowing about the demands in the medical research industry, Baes conceived the idea for moleCures. Baes has nearly 15 years of experience in the sales and marketing arena, with expertise in the health field.
“There’s been this huge gap of funding,” Baes said. “Knowing that crowdfunding has been successful, I figured why not in healthcare?”
A Platform for Researchers and Donors
The moleCures site takes a two-pronged approach to funding medical research.
Baes partners with leading institutions to scout projects in need of funding. In many cases, the projects featured were not able to secure funds because of the complexities and politics involved in the process.
Baes said the platform works well because many people donating to medical research are unsure about where, exactly, their money goes. Also, a lot of research organizations have hefty overhead, so a lot of the funds may not go into the research itself.
“We provide that visibility,” Baes explained.
The other side of moleCures is for individuals who want to support medical research directly. People can donate to the highlighted projects, and also campaign on behalf of a specific project.
For example, if you want to run a marathon and have proceeds go to a specific research initiative, you can set up a page on the moleCures website so donations will go toward the project.
“I think at the end of the day the motivation of the donors is to make a difference,” Baes said.
The Research Funding Gap
Baes’ website raises awareness about another issue in the health arena: dwindling research funding and the difficulty in obtaining it.
She said scientists have to find government grants or obtain money from academic institutions in order to fund studies.
Another problem, Baes said, is that the funding typically goes to experienced researchers. Even then, the veteran scientists may not have a hands-on role in the investigations.
“You’re looking at a very small slice of researchers getting funding,” Baes added.
Shou-Ching Jaminet, Ph.D., a cancer researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, knows how hard it is to obtain funding.
Her research was privately funded for a while, but the money is set to expire next month. She never was able to obtain funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In her field, nearly all the money for research comes from the NIH.
"It is hard for researchers to get NIH funding because more researchers are competing for an unchanging pool of funds and because the funding process rewards a certain kind of applicant,” Jaminet said.
Part of the problem occurs in the evaluation process.
“Innovative proposals tend not to get funded because peer reviewers, giving 20 minutes to review an unfamiliar idea, cannot easily be persuaded that it deserves to be ranked among the top 5 percent of grants,” Jaminet said. “Funding tends to go almost entirely to ‘hot’ topics… and then to the highest-reputation groups in that subfield.”
“This makes it hard for outsiders to break in,” Jaminet added.
She believes that many researchers form networks to support each other during the peer review process, leaving out other scientists that have promising projects.
“The process becomes not one of scientific merit but of political networking,” she said.
Though these problems persist, Baes hopes moleCures can make a difference.
In September, moleCures will be partners on a marathon with Lifetime Fitness in Miami. Baes hopes to form more alliances to promote the website, along with the idea of more direct, transparent medical research funding.
Being able to do so has given her increased motivation to grow moleCures.
“When you know that you can change the landscape of healthcare, you really feel empowered to do it,” Baes said.