The Most Brilliant Use of Crowdfunding Yet: Medical Research

Since the rise of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the world has been blessed with $100 resin-based 3D printers, Video game consoles built on Android, quadcopters that follow you around, and thousands of other projects that either haven’t lived up to expectations or simply disappeared into the ether. The idea of crowdfunding is a very powerful one: it’s the ability for thousands of people to chip in a few bucks for something they think is valuable. It’s a direct democracy for scientific funding. It’s the potential for people to pool their money, give it to someone capable, and create something really great. The reality of crowdfunding isn’t producing the best humanity has to offer. Right now, the top five crowdfunding campaigns ever are two video games, a beer cooler, a wristwatch with an e-ink screen, and something to do with Bitcoin. You will never go broke underestimating people.

[Dr. Todd Rider] wants to change this. He might have developed a way to cure nearly all viral diseases in humans, but he can’t find the funding for the research to back up his claims. He’s turned to IndieGoGo with an audacious plan: get normal people, and not NIH grants, to pay for the research.

The research [Dr. Rider] has developed is called the DRACO, the Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer. It works by relying on the singular difference between healthy cells and infected cells. Infected cells contain long chains viral double-stranded RNA. The DRACOs attach themselves to these long strands of RNA and cause those cells to commit suicide. The research behind the DRACO was published in 2011, and since then [Dr. Rider] has already received funding from more traditional sources, but right now the project is stuck in the ‘funding valley of death’. It’s easy to get funding for early research, but to get the millions of dollars for clinical trials it takes real results – showing efficacy, and proving to pharmaceutical companies or VCs that the drug will make money.

So far, results are promising, but far from the cure for HIV and the common cold the DRACO promises to be. [Dr. Rider] has performed a few tests on cell cultures and mice, and the DRACOs have been effective in combating everything from the common cold, to the flu to dengue hemorrhagic fever.

The IndieGoGo campaign is flexible funding, meaning all the money raised will go towards research even if the funding goal is not met. Right now, just over $50,000 has been raised of a $100,000 goal. That $100k goal is just the first step; [Dr. Rider] thinks he’ll need about $2 Million to test DRACOs against more viruses and hopefully show enough progress to get additional traditional funding. That $2 Million is a little less than what Solar Roadways raised, meaning no matter what [Dr. Rider] will make one important medical discovery: people are very, very, very dumb.

55 thoughts on “The Most Brilliant Use of Crowdfunding Yet: Medical Research

    1. Among them, the fact that this guy’s research is basically a dead-end because the protein size is too large for humans. Several science/research podcasts have covered this. Every so often, reddit gets a hard-on for this guy’s work, thinking this is some sort of David-with-the-magic-bullet-for-viruses-versus-evil-big-pharma-that-doesn’t-want-to-kill-the-money-cow.

      There’s a reason he can’t get funding. It’s not because of evil big pharma (which isn’t the likely source of funding anyway; NIH is, at least initially, and the fact he’s having trouble getting further funding means most of his peers think it’s a dead end.)

      Big pharma would totally snap him up if his research was a legitimate threat, if only to lock it down and keep it out of the hands of someone else. The amount of money needed here is pretty small compared to the kinds of money dumped into tech VCs, and the potential profits are hundreds of billions of dollars.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a snake oil salesman, more a Jonah with-whale sort of thing. That said, look at his recent Reddit AMA, which barely got over 100 upvotes, and take a look at the age and posting history of some of the accounts that submitted questions. Several were created a week or two before the AMA.

      Furthermore: why should we crowdfund research that if successful, he’ll cash out for millions of dollars, the pharma companies make billions, and we get back what exactly?

      The concept of crowdfunding medical research is idiotic. It’s going to lead to people funding crap like this, rather than legitimate science that isn’t approachable and sexy.

      1. You covered many of the types of things I was imagining. I am not knowledgable about this guy or his research, but I know about academic research, intellectual property, and the public -> private funding to profit model used in USA’s fascistic system.

          1. He will not get in real trouble.

            That is pageantry to convince the ignorant citizens that the DOJ does go after white collar crime.

            Look into how long enron perps were in prison vs how long a non-violent house robber sits in jail.

  1. So because he can’t get money from qualified medical professional companies that fund this sort of stuff all the time (if it’s on to something), He is trying to get money from people with no medical background with no real way to do due diligence. Good luck to the guy if he can convince people to give him their money he deserves it more than them anyway.

      1. This is just untrue. Will someone lose money? Yeah. But someone else will now be the only company that sells to everyone. Truly a billion dollar venture. No drug yields income forever. If it wasn’t for curing the disease, it’d be because the patent ran out or someone came up with a better drug.

        1. There are only two diseases that have been totally eradicated – Smallpox in humans and Rinderpest in cattle. It is not profitable to eradicate diseases, the sole purpose of drug companies is to make more money next year than the previous year. The diseases that have been eradicated have not been driven by drug companies, their CEO would be sacked by their shareholders if they even tried.

          1. So you’re saying Merck didn’t make a ton of money off of Gardasil…? Seriously? They made a TON of money off of a vaccine targeting a disease that is common and would otherwise have to be treated through far more expensive therapy. In fact if it was up to them it would be mandatory for men and women and the target strains of HPV would be rapidly reduced, they’ve made that quite clear, mostly because that would mean over double the current patient pool that they sell to, which means far more profit, not less. Remember, time value of money. Better to have a ton now then a long term dribble.

            The way competition works in a marketplace ensures that if you can beat the competitors product, you not only get to charge a premium, but potentially get to take over the market. If you can actually eradicate a disease you would stand to make money hand over fist. Just because it may limit the areas of research many years down the line is pretty much irrelevant. Especially to investors who tend to look at quarterly earning reports. Drugs make a vast majority of their profit in a few years anyway, in the time it would take to eradicate any disease, there would already be generics available so there really isn’t any profit motive at all to hold back.

            Eradicating diseases is rare mostly due to mutation rate and diversity in the disease of interest. Gardasil, for example, only targets a very small range of the total herpes simplex viruses.

      2. If you are selling the cure, you get profit. Those that are selling drugs that only deal with the symptoms are the ones who get nothing.
        So what they’d have is a drug that not only would sell like crazy, it would also kill the competition. Same with all the “miracle” technologies that “big oil” keeps from happening…if you can get your hands on something that will make todays cutting edge tech look obsolete, you get it and then swim in the profits while competition is left in the dust.

      1. Puhleeze….+1 vote for “most-annoying-phrase”: “just sayin’ “…..I’d like to break the fingers off anyone that types that phrase on a keyboard… right up there with the word “robust”…. wtf is that mean ? I think there was even a Dilbert strip about it.

    1. It looks like he’s already done at least one paper on it. He’s not doing this in secret and other scientists could try to reproduce his results. He’s not promising to do anything except more research on something that appears to be interesting.

    2. Agree…. the target donors may not have the educational background to adequately vet his research. Then again, many large foundations have donors that just write checks and don’t really care to go down into the weeds and investigate the details of the research they’re funding. One of the reasons I stopped donating to charities is I don’t know where the money is going. Typically to “executive compensation”, and very little to the actual charity/cause.

      I’d be interested in knowing what kind of financial controls/accounting/tracking system is in place. If it were me, I’d be publishing the financial online for full “transparency”. Income received, disbursed (cost of equipment, etc).

    3. The current funding situation in the US is absolutely abysmal and so even excellent people are having a very very hard time getting funding now. Many academic labs have become totally dormant in the last few years. Furthermore, the scientific establishment has a horrid record for really examining new ideas because reviewers are very reluctant to pass a grant proposal that will overturn or invalidate their life’s work. Turning to crowdfunding provides a clean way of circumventing some of this mental inertia if you can pull it off.

      The method of crowd funding of research is relatively new, but the concept of private research funding is not. It wasn’t until c. WWII that most funding for scientific research was done by the government. Prior to that, private foundations and philanthropists funded most of the research. In the long run, maybe we can hope to see more private funding for science and more real science get done instead of trying to get raw publication numbers.

      source: first hand experience and studying history.

  2. Common Cold is caused by Adenoviridae, which are not dual-stranded RNA viruses.
    HIV and Herpes type viruses are also not dsRNA.

    So is there a perspective that this method could be applicable to DNA viruses, too?

  3. Nice touch with the empty lab with empty shelves. At least with an empty lab he can use all of that desk space to embiggen all of the bad DNA large enough for him to connect those suicide straws and french ticklers to it, BOOM you’re cured.

  4. “meaning no matter what [Dr. Rider] will make one important medical discovery: people are very, very, very dumb”

    More chip-on-the-shoulder writing from Brian… what a huge turn-off. And totally unnecessary.

  5. This is scary amazing.
    I first thought Hacakday was ripping his snake oil apart, but they’re not.Riders paper is interesting when you finish googling biochemistry. XD
    I hope the man gets funded, and gets his work open sourced… Someone affluent write Bill Gates!

  6. People are indeed very, very dumb. They don’t know and don’t care about all the scientific research and discovery that was a prerequisite to manufacturing their iPhone. They just want. It’s easy to forget that humanity is still just a big group of dumb ass animals sometimes.

  7. A cure for hepatitis, herpes, HIV would be great however flu’s and colds are good for you purging weak cells. Problem is every idiot and their dog is going to want these for cold’s and flu killing off weak viri allowing mutations to survive that will eventually render this useless against actual health threats.

        1. That’s just not true, humans are still selecting their mates, and always will. Medicine making some conditions not be taken into account by natural selection isn’t really relevant because we have that medicine.

  8. There are other proposals to make people virus proof (e.g. modifying hosts such that they lack the stop codons that a virus needs, or modifying hosts such that viral promotors are heavily down-regulated), and some version of anti-viral genetic therapy may well come to pass.

    But I wonder about the impact on endogenous retroviruses. A few % of our genetic code actually resides in “good” viruses, and some horizontal genetic transfer actually takes place during the course of our life by way of these viruses (strictly speaking, a virus received from another host makes it exogenous, but once it is a long time resident, the distinction would seem to blur).

    At any rate, we apparently undergo a lifetime of genetic “tweaking” from a variety of forces, including these “good” retroviruses. I am not sure anyone knows what happens if we suddenly tamper with this mechanism.

    My understanding is that retroviruses are powerful precisely because they tend to cause a persistent change in a host. So this can be bad (e.g. AIDS) or beneficial (e.g. therapeutic retroviruses can target the cells in diffuse cancers like Leukemia, and leave you with a latent infection that will resurface if the cancer comes back).

    On a distantly related note, a provision in the latest federal budget bill seems poised to kill federal funding for CRISPR research in humans, and this is currently the most promising avenue of research for in vivo genetic modifications. I wonder whether it is wise to take this out of the hands of publicly funded research in the US.

  9. This might be an idea for apple and such too, have the fanbois pay for researching their new gadgets so you don’t need to spend any of your trillion..

    And incidentally, it’s not new, the ‘folding’ project was all about researching for big pharma so they could develop pills to be sold for 5 grand a pop.

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