Most early-stage startups face financial challenges during the commercialization process. All too often, inadequate funding capsizes biotech startups that are developing life-saving and life-improving tools. When this happens, society pays. The possibility of a more effective or badly needed medical intervention is no longer available to fight diseases. This is unacceptable, yet this “business as usual” practice goes unnoticed by the public.
“Financial problems force most cancer-fighting startups to shut down before their ideas have had the chance to prove their effectiveness,” says Dr. Mona Jhaveri, former scientist and CEO and now founder and director of Music Beats Cancer, which helps fund anticancer innovations. “This funding bottleneck is referred to as ‘valley of death’ — where great ideas go to die.”
To address this problem, Dr. Jhaveri launched a new funding path to help cancer-fighting biotechs survive the “valley of death.” This path encourages our concerned public to get involved.
Crowdfunding to save lives
Music Beats Cancer, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, operates a charitable crowdfunding platform where scientific and tech innovators can launch donation-based funding campaigns in support of their work.
Notably, the platform enables ordinary people who do not have technical backgrounds to donate directly to cancer-fighting projects that they find interesting and compelling. Essentially, the public can learn about exciting cancer-fighting ideas on the nonprofit’s website and throw their support behind the campaign(s) of their choice.
In this way, Music Beats Cancer mobilizes the power of people by providing a direct and transparent method of funding an early-stage cancer-fighting idea of their choice. “Before Music Beats Cancer, the public had no access to learn or support real solutions that offer change in our war on cancer,” Dr. Jhaveri explains.
Some of Music Beats Cancer campaigns feature projects such as a pill that induces a keto-like diet for improved treatment of brain, bladder, and other cancers, a microchip that localizes chemotherapy that proves safer than systemic chemo, and a breathalyzer that detects breast cancer with one breath and five seconds. “Imagine the power and progress of medicine if these ideas become standard of care,” Dr. Jhaveri exclaims.
The power of music to beat cancer
As the name implies, the engine behind the Music Beats Cancer model is music, and musicians serve as our torch for change.
The organization hosts online fundraising challenges where individual artists and bands compete to win incredible prizes, such as having their song played on an iHeartRadio station or their music video aired on the jumbotron at the iHeart Jingle Ball. This is unique exposure for both artists and the Music Beats Cancer mission.
Dr. Jhaveri explains how, while thousands of musicians and bands from all over the world apply to take part, Jhaveri and her team carefully select approximately 30 to 50 acts to participate in each contest. “We seek artists who care about the valley of death issue and can be a voice of change,” she says.
In addition to the artist’s challenges, Music Beats Cancer hosts special “tribute concerts” to legendary artists who have passed away from cancer. “These artists were bigger than their music, influencing cultural norms and new thinking. They stood for change and will never be forgotten. We honor their life and legacy through a virtual concert of their music, and we speak to the disease that ultimately took their lives,” says Dr. Jhaveri.
The next Music Beats Cancer tribute is to Bob Marley on May 11 at 7:00 PM EST. The events are free for those who register here.
A new kind of pitch event
Dr. Jhaveri’s ultimate vision is to create a productive space for innovators to share their ideas with an audience that wants to get behind it because they see the value it potentially offers to society. As it stands, early-stage biotech start-ups follow the classical path of pitching to investors in order to raise the requisite cash they need to advance their product development. This has always been an inefficient process because, inevitably, these start-ups are almost always too early and too risky for investment. Alternative methods of accessing capital are not any better, such as writing grants that can take months to years to write and get peer-reviewed, if it gets funded at all. This does not work for a cash-strapped start-up.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that accessing critical pools of investors — such as institutional investors, angel investors, or family offices — requires a “pay to play” model, where innovators are asked to pay thousands of dollars to present their worthy ideas. “This is egregious!” says Dr. Jhaveri. “It should be the other way around. Investors should be paying innovators for the opportunity to participate in a game-changing idea that not only lines their pockets but also does good for society.”
In an attempt to turn this around, Dr. Jhaveri decided to launch Music Beats Cancer’s first benefit concert on June 8th in New York City’s Terminal 5, using music as a means to flip this equation. The concert will feature the celebrated Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out and kick off with an exclusive red carpet hosted by the renowned New York Giants Hall-of-Famer, Lawrence Taylor. The red carpet will be catered with an open bar and live music by the renowned DJ Lee Kalt.
This special event is exclusive for sponsors and their guests, press partners, and the innovators on the Music Beats Cancer platform — and the innovators are invited to attend for free. “The idea here is to create a high-impact networking event for our innovators to mingle with New York’s high-net-worth concert-goers who could potentially become their affinity backers,” says Dr. Jhaveri.
Further, Music Beats Cancer will launch a “live appeal” at the concert so that audiences can learn about these game-changing ideas and donate directly to the campaigns that resonate with them.
Injecting life into the fight against cancer
Venture capital has been drying up in recent years. According to an article in Crunchbase, The sharp downturn in startup funding between 2021 and 2022 extends to venture-backed companies working on cancer therapies and diagnostics.
Globally, companies in the space pulled in $8 billion in seed through growth-stage funding in 2022, according to a Crunchbase analysis of funded startups developing cancer drugs, tests, and associated medical devices. That is a sharp decline from 2021 when $13.7 billion went into cancer-focused companies.
Given the financial pains of the cancer-investment ecosystem, alternative funding sources for biotech startups are more critical now than ever. “Biotech is all about commercializing the science and bringing it to market so that patients have a chance of improving their outcomes,” Dr. Jhaveri states. “We need more ways to support this process, and that’s what Music Beats Cancer does.”