Investment

Mental illness, Alzheimer’s, and the rush by investment offices to find cures

The Covid-19 pandemic ensures more money than ever is directed into finding better treatments and cures for all diseases. That may mean better treatments are emerging soon for cancers, but also for protracted neological disorders and mental illnesses. 

Treatments for the latter  –  the Cinderella when it comes to funding – are now getting more money than ever. And family offices are a big part of those funding efforts.  

With this level of funding, the excitement around this particular branch of biotech has become palpable

Dave Dolby’s Dolby Family Ventures and Jim Simons’ Euclidean Capital are well-known family office investors in life-science groups battling to find better treatments and even a cure for Alzheimer’s. 

For them, the mission is personal. Dolby is relatively young, but he saw his famous father, Ray Dolby, who invented the Dolby noise reduction system, die with the disease. Simons, 83, has one of the sharpest mathematical and investor brains around. No doubt, he doesn’t want to lose that sharpness anytime soon. 

But funding research and novel therapies for Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders takes a lot of patience. Many potential treatments don’t even get to the clinical stages of development. 

No wonder Dave Dolby told Family Capital some time ago that investing in these businesses was a bit like philanthropy. In other words, the likelihood of getting your money back, let alone making a profit, was negligible. 

That said, more investors are getting excited that breakthroughs in treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other mental illnesses are within touching distance. 

Investors like Joe Lewis, the British billionaire and owner of the London Premier League football club, Tottenham. Lewis is a prolific investor through his business, the Tavistock Group. The Bahamas-based holding and investment group also owns the specialist biotech investment business, Boxer Capital. 

Through the San Diego, California-based group, Lewis, 84, has invested in a host of life-science companies, from startups to late-stage clinical and commercial-stage companies.  

Most of Boxer’s investments are in oncology-linked biotech groups. But Lewis, or at least Boxer Capital, also likes biotech companies focused on brain illnesses. Businesses like Prevail Therapeutics, which is developing gene therapies for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and other neological diseases. 

Boxer did well out of Prevail. The New York City-based biotech was bought by the big pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly for $1 billion earlier this year. 

Lewis was no doubt happy with his return from his investment. But he also would have been pleased about the progress Prevail has made in gene therapies to treat Parkinson’s and other neological diseases. 

More recently, Boxer backed GH Research, which is developing therapies for the treatment of mental illnesses. Only founded three years ago, GH Research has already attracted $125 million in funding. 

Also bankrolling GH Research is the Rockefeller-backed venture group, Venrock, and hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, through his Surveyor Capital group. 

With this level of funding, the excitement around this particular branch of biotech has become palpable. 

But patience has always been a unique quality of venture investing in the life sciences. The path from a startup to US Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency approval is a long one if they even get to the approval process in the first place. 

So, despite great enthusiasm, Dave Dolby’s philanthropic comment still remains pertinent in the sector, especially when it comes to neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. 

His family office has just seeded yet another neological specialist biotech group, Therini Bio. And he’s willing to play the long game yet again. 

With Therini, that could be a very long game. The San Francisco-based biotech group still hasn’t got a website up and running. 

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