Recently proposed ‘megafund’ financing methods for funding translational medicine and drug development require billions of dollars in capital per megafund to de-risk the drug discovery process enough to issue long-term bonds. Here, we demonstrate that the same financing methods can be applied to orphan drug development but, because of the unique nature of orphan diseases and therapeutics (lower development costs, faster FDA approval times, lower failure rates and lower correlation of failures among disease targets) the amount of capital needed to de-risk such portfolios is much lower in this field. Numerical simulations suggest that an orphan disease megafund of only US$575 million can yield double-digit expected rates of return with only 10–20 projects in the portfolio.Available Here >
In this paper, we describe a new approach to financing biomedical innovation that we first proposed in Fernandez, Stein, and Lo (2012) and extend in several ways here: using portfolio theory and securitization to reduce the risk of translational medicine. By combining a large number of drug-development projects within a single portfolio, a “megafund,” it becomes possible to reduce the investment risk to such an extent that issuing bonds backed by these projects becomes feasible. Debt financing is a key innovation because the cost of each drug-development project can be several hundred million dollars; hence, a sufficiently diversified portfolio may require tens of billions of dollars of investment capital, and debt markets have much greater capacity than either private or public equity markets. If these bonds are structured to have different priorities, the most senior class or “tranche” may be rated by credit-rating agencies, opening up a much larger pool of institutional investors who can purchase such instruments, e.g., pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowments, and foundations.Download (PDF) >
As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) grows, so do the costs it imposes on society. Scientific, clinical, and financial interests have focused current drug discovery efforts largely on the single biological pathway that leads to amyloid deposition. This effort has resulted in slow progress and disappointing outcomes. Here, we describe a “portfolio approach” in which multiple distinct drug development projects are undertaken simultaneously. Although a greater upfront investment is required, the probability of at least one success should be higher with “multiple shots on goal,” increasing the efficiency of this undertaking. However, our portfolio simulations show that the risk-adjusted return on investment of parallel discovery is insufficient to attract private-sector funding. Nevertheless, the future cost savings of an effective AD therapy to Medicare and Medicaid far exceed this investment, suggesting that government funding is both essential and financially beneficial.Available Here >
Biomedical innovation has become riskier, more expensive and more difficult to finance with traditional sources such as private and public equity. Here we propose a financial structure in which a large number of biomedical programs at various stages of development are funded by a single financial entity to substantially reduce the portfolio’s risk. The portfolio entity can finance its activities by issuing debt, a critical advantage because a much larger pool of capital is available for investment in debt versus equity. By employing financial engineering techniques such as securitization, it can raise even greater amounts of more-patient capital. In a simulation using historical data for new molecular entities in oncology from 1990 to 2011, we find that megafunds of $5−15 billion may yield average investment returns of 8.9−11.4% for equityholders and 5−8% for “research-backed-obligation” holders, which are lower than typical venture-capital hurdle rates but attractive to pension funds, insurance companies and other large institutional investors.Download (PDF) >
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is among the world’s largest investors in biomedical research, with a mandate to: “…lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.” Its funding decisions have been criticized as insufficiently focused on disease burden. We hypothesize that modern portfolio theory can create a closer link between basic research and outcome, and offer insight into basic-science related improvements in public health. We propose portfolio theory as a systematic framework for making biomedical funding allocation decisions–one that is directly tied to the risk/reward trade-off of burden-of-disease outcomes.
Using data from 1965 to 2007, we provide estimates of the NIH “efficient frontier”, the set of funding allocations across 7 groups of disease-oriented NIH institutes that yield the greatest expected return on investment for a given level of risk, where return on investment is measured by subsequent impact on U.S. years of life lost (YLL). The results suggest that NIH may be actively managing its research risk, given that the volatility of its current allocation is 17% less than that of an equal-allocation portfolio with similar expected returns. The estimated efficient frontier suggests that further improvements in expected return (89% to 119% vs. current) or reduction in risk (22% to 35% vs. current) are available holding risk or expected return, respectively, constant, and that 28% to 89% greater decrease in average years-of-life-lost per unit risk may be achievable. However, these results also reflect the imprecision of YLL as a measure of disease burden, the noisy statistical link between basic research and YLL, and other known limitations of portfolio theory itself.
Our analysis is intended to serve as a proof-of-concept and starting point for applying quantitative methods to allocating biomedical research funding that are objective, systematic, transparent, repeatable, and expressly designed to reduce the burden of disease. By approaching funding decisions in a more analytical fashion, it may be possible to improve their ultimate outcomes while reducing unintended consequences.Available Here >