Case study

Fast Forward Competition 2014: Philanthropic crowdfunding of IP through the valley of death

The University of Lancaster were awarded nearly £40,000 to fund their 'Philanthropic crowdfunding of IP through the valley of death’ project.

Crowd funding web page

The valley of death

The UK has a world class science base where innovation is part of its culture. Translating that innovation into commercial success is proving difficult, as many innovations languish in the ‘valley of death’. The valley of death is the gap between research funding and product funding. It’s a particular problem in drug discovery and halts the progress of many innovations.

Finding solutions to this problem has become a government priority. Many universities are at the forefront of this work, none more so than the University of Lancaster. Their Fast Forward project sought to answer a question. Can a university attract charitable donations from the general public to fund an innovation through the valley of death ? They’ve found an answer to that question and in doing so have discovered the power of the crowd.

Local support for a national problem

The goal of this project was to use crowdfunding to fund the next stages of development of a candidate Alzheimer’s drug. That funding would progress it into clinical trials. The starting point was the launch of the ‘Defying Dementia’ fundraising campaign. Defying Dementia attracted significant interest from the local community and media. Members of the public used the campaign’s JustGiving page to donate money, raising £18,500 so far. The campaign is still receiving donations and with continued promotion the team hope to increase that total.

One of the most significant achievements has been attracting interest from commercial organisations. They’re keen to make use of the science behind the project and their support has proven to be vital in progressing the research. Negotiations are ongoing with one organisation who want to develop the drug for neurological imaging. Interest from another organisation has led to perhaps the most significant achievement so far. They’ve agreed a contract to take the drug through clinical trials, which is a major milestone for the project.

Bridging the valley of death

Dr Penny Foulds, a biochemist and member of the research team at Lancaster, became the face and driving force of the campaign. Her work on the project caught the eye of Alzheimer’s Society who named her their ‘Dementia Champion’. Dr Foulds will continue to promote the campaign and will be part of the team taking the drug through clinical trials.

Agreeing a commercial contract has proved something of a turning point for the team. Professor David Allsop, project leader at the University of Lancaster is clear on their achievements :

Following the magnificent Defying Dementia campaign by Dr Penny Foulds, Lancaster’s patent-pending Alzheimer’s drug has progressed through the ‘valley of death’ and should shortly begin clinical trials.

At the heart of this project is science. The research team want to understand the biochemistry of brain diseases and how they cause dementia. The more is known about the science behind dementia the closer sufferers will be to a solution. Innovation takes that science and moves us closer to slowing or maybe preventing some forms of dementia.

As a result of their Fast Forward project the team secured a commercial contract to push this through clinical trials. In gaining this support they’ve successfully combined science and innovation and are now closer to that life changing solution. This step was the defining moment in the project and the key to bridging the valley of death.

Published 9 July 2015