Strapped For Funding, Medical Researchers Pitch To The Crowd

Virginia Hughes | | September 7, 2012

...In April, Dyer turned to Medstartr, one of several new crowd-funding websites tailored for scientific research and the healthcare sector. Medstartr, which debuted online in July, focuses on helping biomedical start-ups solicit small donations from everyday citizens. Meanwhile, Petridish, which came online 6 March, and iAMscientist, on 31 July, are helping scientists affiliated with academic or nonprofit institutions raise money for their research.

As crowd funding enthusiasts are quick to point out, projects financed in this way don't need the approval of fickle grant reviewers at government agencies, private foundations or venture capitalists. Instead, they're at the mercy of the masses. “Here we have a new way to show what people actually want, to drive adoption by doctors or institutions or patients,” says Alex Fair, chief executive of New York–based MedStartr. (MedStartr, like all these new companies, charges a 5% service fee for any fully funded project; donors are not being charged for any project that doesn't meet its financial goal by the predetermined deadline.)

It's too early to tell how big of an influence crowd funding will have on biomedicine. As Nature Medicine went to press, Medstartr had posted fewer than 20 projects—including one for its continued operation—but was receiving more than 3,000 page views per day. Petridish's website had listed around 40 projects since its launch, including a $5,000 proposal from researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, to help develop a dengue vaccine that targets the mosquito vector's saliva protein, while iAMscientist's had listed just nine...