Research is not the biggest hurdle for scientists searching for a cancer cure; it’s the funding required to get their innovations to those in need. New cancer-fighting drugs demand substantial financing in addition to years of development. According to former cancer researcher and nonprofit Music Beats Cancer founder Dr. Mona Jhaveri, many promising innovations don’t make it to the final stretch due to this lack of funds.
“As a public, we’ve been fighting the war on cancer since Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971,” said Dr. Jhaveri. “Yet treatment for many cancers, especially metastatic cancers, is still largely unchanged.”
In cancer research, many potential cures for the disease never make it to the patient. The problem is the funding gap to support the translation of research discoveries into therapies for those who need treatment. The cancer research industry refers to this as “The Valley of Death,” where great ideas die due to lack of funds.
The Valley of Death Meets Crowdfunding
Dr. Jhaveri faced this hurdle firsthand when her treatment for ovarian cancer succumbed to underfunding.
“While doing my postdoctoral work at the National Cancer Institute, my team discovered a promising DNA-based therapy to treat ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Jhaveri. “I founded Foligo Therapeutics, Inc. to bring this idea from the lab to the clinic.”
Sadly, Dr. Jhaveri will never know how her biotech company could have impacted patients because the funding dried up. Like many other promising researchers searching for a cancer cure, Foligo Therapeutics was forced to close its doors.
Instead of feeling defeated, Dr. Jhaveri decided to disrupt the responsible system. In 2014, she left her research career behind to revolutionize this process of translating promising research discoveries into medical solutions. Instead of working in the lab, she put her energies into bridging the funding gap for her fellow researchers.
Inspired by the incredible crowdfunding success of the ALS ice bucket challenge, she decided to emulate this fundraising approach to support the development of biotech ideas. Her goal was to make millions of people aware of the Valley of Death issue and empower them to contribute to cancer-fighting innovations that they found worthy and compelling. Establishing Music Beats Cancer as a 501(c)3 organization enabled her to funnel charitable contributions directly to biotech start-ups working on cancer-fighting technologies. Meanwhile, donors get the opportunity to directly and transparently support biomedical innovations, such as new treatments, diagnostics, and prevention tools.
“Billions of dollars are invested into basic research each year, but great ideas are slow to advance to the clinic,” she said. “Music Beats Cancer can change this by enabling biotech innovators to raise funds through the crowd, helping them advance beyond the ‘Valley of Death.’ This is why we are different.”
The Music in Music Beats Cancer
One of Dr. Jhaveri’s biggest challenges is cultivating the community for the cause.
“With the crowdfunding platform, it’s challenging to cultivate, motivate, and incentivize a crowd,” she said. “There’s a lot of competition, and it’s hard to get your name out there in a meaningful way where people pay attention.”
Instead of ice buckets, Dr. Jhaveri came up with the idea of using music and musicians to help spread the word; she called it the #MusicBeatsCancer Challenge. Artists who are partnered with the Music Beats Cancer platform are tasked to raise funds. The ones who raise the most get a unique exposure opportunity, like their song aired on an iHeartRadio station or a meeting with Republic Records.
“I’m not a musician, but I became convinced that music could be the medium for getting our message out there,” she explained. “Independent artists became our collective voice for bringing biomedical science and innovation to the public who wish to see change in the war on cancer.”
World Premiere of Posthumous Song
In June, Music Beats Cancer held its first reception at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego during the Biotechnology Innovation Organization annual conference in San Diego. The response was phenomenal.
“Our event reached capacity, and the room filled up in nine minutes with hundreds waiting in the lobby and a line out the door, simply waiting to be part of it,” she said. “It was a good problem to have. People now know about Music Beats Cancer.”
This event was memorable in more ways than one.
“Local band The Dandelion Dream debuted a song written by one of their members, Burton Sirota, who died of cancer,” she explained. “He wrote the lyrics while he was dying. None of his friends, the other band members, knew it at the time. They only put two and two together after he passed away and realized that he had written it in his final days. This song was produced and performed for the first time at the Music Beats Cancer Reception, and people were moved.”
Battle of the Biotechs
Dr. Jhaveri’s latest plan features a fun new way to combine music with innovation.
“It occurred to me that we need a way to jumpstart these fundraising campaigns, so we came up with the idea we’re calling ‘The Battle of the Biotechs: Judged by Musicians,’ an idea similar to a pitch competition,” she stated. “The companies will be judged not by their potential valuation, but by the potential of their technology for reducing our global cancer burden.”
“The judges will be philanthropic musicians of any age, genre, or location who support the Music Beats Cancer mission. “I’m after uniting popular culture with biomedical innovation to create a powerful way to bring unlikely stakeholders together to advance badly needed solutions for cancer.”
Dr. Mona Jhaveri is the founder, executive director, and chairman of the board at Music Beats Cancer. She launched the nonprofit to address the “Valley of Death,” the growing gap in funding that constrains the translation of cancer research discoveries into clinical applications.