The Foundation Fighting Blindness announced the creation of the first Retinal Degeneration Fund (RD Fund), a wholly owned, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit subsidiary focused on making venture philanthropy investments to further the Foundation’s mission: To provide preventions, treatments and cures for inherited retinal diseases and age-related macular degeneration as fast as possible. The RD Fund, which now has more than $70 million in initial funding, will invest in companies with projects nearing clinical testing.
“We are excited to initiate a focused and concentrated effort on our mission-related investments with the creation of the RD Fund,” Benjamin Yerxa, PhD, CEO, RD Fund and Foundation Fighting Blindness, said in a company news release. “With more than $70 million in assets to put to work, the RD Fund will support a portfolio of projects that advance our organization’s mission.”
“We are adapting to a rapidly changing environment, and the RD Fund is part of our strategy,” David Brint, chairman of Foundation Fighting Blindness, said in the news release. “Translational R&D is increasing in cost, and our supporters want to see a disciplined and professional approach to maximally leverage these hard-earned funds to provide clear, measurable progress, as well as the potential for a sustainable financial future. It is imperative that the most promising research has the best opportunity to reach patients in need.”
The new RD Fund is also the vehicle for Foundation Fighting Blindness’ recent mission-related investments. The Foundation made its first such investment in SparingVision in 2016, through the Foundation’s subsidiary, the Clinical Research Institute (CRI). Since that time, through CRI, the Foundation has co-funded projects with its partners, Nacuity Pharmaceuticals and ProQR. Recognizing the increasing need for more investment to speed translation of scientific discoveries into meaningful clinical results, Foundation Fighting Blindness is transforming its CRI subsidiary into the RD Fund, which will now focus purely on mission-related investments.
Clinical research activities formerly overseen by CRI will now be managed by a new Foundation Fighting Blindness subcommittee chaired by Dr. Frederick Ferris III, former clinical director of the National Eye Institute.
“We would like to thank the Foundation’s Clinical Research Institute board members for their many years of service and dedication to the success of the institute,” said Dr. Morton Goldberg, chairman of the former CRI, who will continue his service on the Foundation’s Research Oversight Committee. “The ability to focus separately on clinical research, now under Rick Ferris’ leadership, and to manage the translational investments through the RD Fund are going to be powerful forces moving the field forward.”
An independent board of directors will oversee the RD Fund, with representatives from Foundation Fighting Blindness and several at-large members who bring significant outside expertise to the team. Warren Thaler, Chairman of the RD Fund Board, said, “I’m excited to use my investment experience to further the foundation’s mission, and am humbled to work with a world-class group of directors to oversee the RD Fund.” In addition to Mr. Thaler, the initial board members include: David Brint, Eugene de Juan, MD, Jacque Duncan, MD, Adrienne Graves, PhD, Kelly Lisbakken, Jason Morris, and Jonathan Steinberg, MD.
The RD Fund will be managed by Benjamin Yerxa, PhD, CEO, Jason Menzo, COO, and Russell Kelley, PhD, MBA, vice president of investments and alliances, along with additional support from the Foundation staff and outside consultants. The $70 million of initial assets include the first three investments made by the former CRI. The RD Fund will remain open to new donations for several months. All proceeds from investments will be used to fund the Foundation’s research mission. In parallel, the Foundation is dedicated to providing continued, robust funding of the best academic laboratories in the inherited retinal disease field to provide a pipeline of future therapies.
“Although $70 million sounds like a lot of money, we have to remember that a single R&D program can cost tens of millions of dollars or more,” said Paul Manning, whose family recently completed a Gund Challenge pledge of nearly $12 million directed to the RD Fund. “The Manning family is truly excited to see the Foundation Fighting Blindness move in this direction, and we invite others to join us in financially supporting this effort.”