Biomedical Research Is Our Ticket to Normalcy
September 26, 2020
Last month, Russia made international headlines after claiming that researchers in Moscow had found the Holy Grail of our present moment—a successful COVID-19 vaccination. The announcement sent shockwaves around the world. At a moment when millions remain out of work, international travel has come to a grinding halt, social unrest has proliferated and daily lives continue inexorably interrupted, a COVID-19 vaccination could be our golden ticket back to normalcy.
Health authorities from around the world, though, were quick to cast doubt on Russia’s purported breakthrough. Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said that he “highly doubts” the Russians had truly developed a cure—a refrain repeated in media across the globe. It later came to light that Russian researches had foregone critical phase 3 clinical trials, a crucial set of large-scale human trials regarded as the final—and most onerous—stage before a drug is approved.
While now more than a month in retrospect Russia’s vaccine looks far more like a publicity stunt than a medical breakthrough, the false sense of hope it elicited placed the FDA’s clinical trial procedure into the limelight.
I’ve written before about the hurdles investors and researchers must overcome to get new drugs approved in the United States. As the CEO of Spectrum Business Ventures, I know all too well the frustrations that accompany biomedical investments. In my time at SBV, we’ve backed a firm that pioneered a groundbreaking new cancer treatment that weaponizes the body’s immune system against tumors, eating them away from the inside. We’ve also helped back Dalent Medical, whose trailblazing SinuSleeve has changed the way medical professionals approach ear, nose, and throat treatment.
When approaching a venture within the biomedical sphere, investors should consider the lengthy FDA approval process that could significantly delay returns.
To get a drug off the ground, firms must conduct pre-clinical research. After having procured the necessary data, properly functioning treatments are sent through three rounds of clinical trials. During Phase I clinical trials, the drug is administered to healthy patients. If successful, it will advance to Phase II trials, in which the drug is tested on a small group of individuals who have the condition it was designed to treat. Phase III trials vastly expand the size of this treatment group, garnering critical information needed before taking the drug to market.
This is an arduous process that often disincentivizes investment in biomedical technology and novel treatments. But despite these difficulties, the FDA approval process is a critical mechanism that ensures the products being sent to market are able to effectively carry out their intended function without inflicting any significant side effects.
I urge aspiring investors to continue to look for innovative biomedical research ventures, despite some of the hurdles associated with investing in pharmaceuticals. Investors should look for opportunities that both deliver returns to their firms and partners and life-changing innovations to those desperate for new treatments and procedures.
Venture capitalists are uniquely positioned to push the medical industry to new heights. Plenty of innovative firms are developing the kinds of drugs and firms many of use once regarded as science fiction—they just need entrepreneurial investors to help get them off the ground. While the Russians’ faux COVID vaccine may be little more than a publicity stunt, the hope it elicited has shown just how desperate our world is for a vaccine.