Blake and Julia’s son was born in May 2012. He seemed to be a healthy baby, but within a few months his parents noticed that he wasn’t rolling. A series of doctors’ appointments led to genetic testing, which revealed that their son had spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a degenerative — and fatal — neuromuscular condition. There were no effective treatments for SMA; most babies with the diagnosis didn’t make it to the age of 1. Their little boy died in January 2013.
At the time, I was an equity research analyst at an investment firm, watching SMA closely. My firm was looking for ways to invest in innovative treatments for the condition.
Ten years previously, in 2003, the Human Genome Project had given researchers an unprecedented opportunity to begin treating some of the most devastating, previously untreatable diseases, including SMA. By 2013, research into SMA treatments was well underway, but they were not ready in time to save Blake’s son.
In 2013, Blake and Julia had their second child, a healthy daughter. In 2015, they gave birth to another daughter. In utero testing revealed the excruciating news that their third child had SMA as well.
Hope arrives with medical drug trial
Thankfully, in the time between the birth of their son and the birth of their second daughter, the landscape had changed. There was a medical drug trial underway, and their daughter qualified. But the trial was full. Doctors had just accepted their ninth patient, and they didn’t have the funding to accept more.
There’s a general perception within the medical and scientific communities that, if you’re not a practicing physician or a scientist, you’re “selling out.” This is perhaps especially true if, like me, you take your PharmD, PhD in Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences and Harvard Medical School postdoctoral training into the world of finance.
Ten years into being an investor, I was invited back to my alma mater to talk to students about alternative career paths. In a private meeting with the dean of the graduate school, he showed me a book he kept where he marked each graduating student as a success or a failure, based on the careers they were entering. He had marked me as a failure.
I’m glad perspectives like his are now evolving on what exactly a “successful” career can look like. In my position, I led a Series D financing round that ultimately helped to recapitalize the company offering SMA trials, which helped them advance their clinical trials and accept six more children. Blake and Julia’s daughter was the trial’s 13th child.
She received the treatment — and it was a success. Today, she’s a healthy 7-year-old, and she’s alive due in part to the discernment of research analysts and the backing of investment capital.
Careers available outside of traditional medical roles
Those with medical degrees don’t often think about the entire process of curing a disease, and they aren’t aware that there are numerous careers available to them outside the traditional roles. We need more medical professionals to pursue careers in investing and help enable biotech companies to continue creating therapies that will impact some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Every clinical trial requires a significant amount of money, so doctors often find themselves in the offices of professional investors looking to raise funds. I remember doctors from Nationwide Children’s Hospital showing us some of the preliminary data of babies who had received gene therapies for SMA. They were meeting milestones that were previously unthinkable. Babies were sitting up for the first time, which had never happened before. It was my job to determine whether the trial had investment potential. It was clear to me that it did.
In the case of SMA, a baby’s brain nerves are not able to communicate with their muscles. This includes their heart and diaphragm. Eventually, they can’t survive. But with new gene therapies, their hearts can continue beating. Their diaphragms can continue breathing. And families like Blake and Julia’s don’t have to suffer an irreplaceable loss.
Years after their daughter completed her treatment, I met Blake at a conference for financial professionals who integrate Christian principles into their practices — a conversation I will never forget. During the trials, I had known his daughter only by her number: Patient 13. All of us at the firm felt a personal connection to these patients, even though we didn’t know their names. I remember cheering her and the other patients in the study on, following reports of their progress. We all knew what was at stake.
Investment firms play vital role in biomedical research
Every day, I use my background in science and medicine to determine how to allocate capital to support advancements to medicine and human flourishing. Biomedical research is valuable, but so is the financing. So many things have to come together for a cure or a treatment to become a reality — from the universities doing the research, to the hospitals being willing to take the risk, to the investment companies funding the ventures, and the everyday people putting their money behind these treatments when they choose an investment fund. “Without any one of these parts,” Blake says, “my child would not be alive.”
I believe we’re in the beginning stages of a biotechnology revolution, enabling amazing therapies through capital investment. Investment firms — and the doctors, pharmacists and scientists who work for them — play a critical role in the ecosystem of the innovations that have dramatic impacts on our lives.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and expresses views of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser.
This does not constitute investment advice nor is it a recommendation or offer to purchase or sell or a solicitation to deal in any security or financial product. There is no guarantee that any investment will achieve its objectives, generate positive returns, or avoid losses. Eventide does not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice.
Eventide's values-based approach to investing may not produce desired results and could result in underperformance compared with other investments. There is no guarantee that any investment strategy will achieve its objectives, generate profits, or avoid losses.
Kyle Rasbach, PhD, PharmD, serves as a Managing Director for Eventide Ventures and a Senior Research Analyst for other Eventide investments. Dr. Rasbach has extensive experience in clinical pharmacology, basic science and health care equity research. Prior to joining Eventide, Dr. Rasbach was a Managing Partner at Pappas Capital, a life science venture capital firm that invests across biotechnology, biopharmaceuticals, drug delivery and medical devices.
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