Kirsch Foundation Targesome donation
Helping to find a treatement for cancer
The preferential accumulation and large payload yield a very high target-to-background ratio (600:1). Thus, when an imaging test is performed using Targesomes, for example, the cancer is easy to see because the background noise is low. Furthermore, when a therapeutic is attached to the Targesomes, the high target-to-background ratio means that the medication is concentrated at the site of the cancer, and low amounts are spread throughout the rest of the body so that side effects are minimized.
Currently, cancers are not detected and localized until they reach a relatively large size (at least 1 cm) when they are likely to have metastasized (spread to other parts of the body), rendering them incurable. For diagnostic imaging, the high target-to-background of Targesomes enable the detection of small cancers at a very early stage (millimeters) when they are more amenable to treatment. Early animal work, including an article published in Nature Medicine, has already validated this approach. For therapeutics, Targesomes enable high dose therapy focused at the cancer while relatively sparing the rest of the body. This approach was evaluated in animals in 2000 with phenomenal success (very aggressive rabbit tumors were completely eradicated within days without killing the rabbit). In 2000, the chemistry was optimized for reliable manufacture and for maximum effectiveness. Clinical trials should begin in 2002 and will be paid for by a major drug company.
The bottom line: Targesomes, with their unprecedented ability to preferentially accumulate in cancers, may be the closest thing to a magic bullet against cancer. While not a cure, this approach appears to be a highly effective diagnostic and (potentially) treatment against most forms of cancer.
Cancer detection using Targesomes will be achieved with a simple, inexpensive, whole body scan which can be performed in 20 minutes in a gamma camera, a machine available in most hospitals. It can replace head-to-toe CT scans, MRI's, bone scans, and other diagnostic tests which are far more complicated, expensive, and can only detect cancers at a relatively late stage, and which are normally done only in specific small areas of the body.
The implications are enormous:
A week after first meeting Joon, and after a lot of due diligence (the VCs that turned them down did so for generic risk reasons in the medical field where new drugs can take 10 years or more and cost hundreds of millions of dollars or because the IPO market was weak at the time, not because they didn't like the science), I wrote them a check for $2M to provide their first round funding, outbidding their best venture capital offer (which only came in after I said I would invest).
The clincher was the opinion of Targesome science I received from Dr. H. William Strauss, the chief of nuclear medicine at Stanford and the president of the 16,000-member Society of Nuclear Medicine. He was previously chief of nuclear medicine at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry as vice president of diagnostics drug discovery at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
I asked him, "Look, there are a lot of cancer cures out there, but this approach that Targesome is taking sounds really exciting and unique. If you had $2M to place your bet on which technique will finally prove to be effective, where would you place your bet? With them?" He said he would, confirming my intuition.
So this was a no lose proposition to me since I viewed it as a $2M "charitable contribution towards cancer research" and I expected no monetary return whatsoever. If they totally fail, I will have felt fine about having made an intelligent contribution to cancer research. While the $2M wasn't "charitable" (it was a Series A equity financing in their company which is a "for profit" entity), if the company fails, I get to deduct the $2M as a capital loss. In fact, I get better tax treatment by investing in charity this way than if Targesome was a 501(c)(3) charity (since I'd have a 30% AGI limitation in that case)! I told the company founders my objective, unlike that of typical venture capitalists, was to cure cancer, not return on investment. So I told the founders that if the company succeeds like I believe it will, that I'd donate the profit back to charity. So the potential for upside (the upside being a monetary return on the "donation" that can be used to fund future charitable donations), was incredible icing on the cake.
Because I was willing to write the $2M check so quickly, they were able to start immediately on the experiments, and it saved them months of delays with venture capitalists. If successful, that translates into a cure arriving to the marketplace months sooner. And that translates into thousands of lives being saved.
In a recent e-mail, a Stanford medical researcher suggested Targesome could be used to detect cancers smaller than 1mm, and we believe this to be true. The concept using radiolabelled annexin to image apoptosis has already been shown. Using Targesome with annexin will increase the sensitivity tremendously, allowing imaging of cancers before angiogenesis.
If you view our charitable giving guidelines, Targesome as a "pure charity" scores 79, a very high score (out of a max possible 96). The potential for monetary upside beyond achieving the charitable objective, makes this a very attractive and unique donation. However, because Targesome was not a charity, this is the only donation that we were not able to make from our charitable foundation (which is restricted to donating to 501(c)(3) charities). However, we're in the process of transitioning our foundation to be a supporting foundation, and in that case, the IRS allows us to "invest" our endowment in startup companies such as Targesome.