Venture Philanthropy: It's About Scientific Return, Not Money

January 7, 2015

Max Wallace, CEO of ABC², responds to the op-ed piece by Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones published this week in the New York Times.

As CEO of Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC²), a venture philanthropy organization, I disagree with the op-ed by Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones entitled "Stop Subsidizing Big Pharma."

This whole piece makes the assumption that venture philanthropy is about the money – about the return on funds invested. I guess that means that ABC² doesn’t do venture philanthropy because we have nothing in our contracts that gives us rights in IP or in commercialization proceeds. I do still think that we are venture philanthropists, we just aren’t focused on the monetary return – we are about scientific/medical return.

The term “venture” doesn’t necessarily imply a monetary return focus – it characterizes a method of behaving. Here is a definition of the term “venture” as a noun: “an undertaking involving uncertainty as to the outcome, especially a risky or dangerous one: e.g., a mountain-climbing venture;” and here is a definition of the term used as a verb: “to proceed despite possible danger or risk.”

At ABC² we believe that operating like a venture fund (albeit a non-profit one), making venture capital-like evaluations of technology, people, opportunity and need and then making venture capital-like investments of time, money, expertise and connections, gives us the best chance to make important new scientific impacts. This is just like the argument made by profit venture capitalists where they believe that their approach gives them the best chance to make significantly greater financial returns.

If we wind up subsidizing pharma, either by funding, by risk reduction, by licensing or otherwise, to bring a new drug to market that would otherwise not have been brought forward for patients, then I believe that we have done our jobs and served our constituents well. And, these are the people who gave us their money and needed our help.