A new non-profit “startup” emerged from stealth today with $15 million in funding from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin, focused on studying and treating long-term Covid.
Although the global pandemic is nearing an end for many, millions of people around the world are still experiencing long-term effects from COVID-19. Studies suggest that anywhere between 20% and 40% of those infected with COVID-19 experience at least some chronic symptoms, ranging from mild fatigue and “brain fog” to severe debilitating conditions such as headaches, malaise, and muscle weakness. Respiratory problems.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t know enough about Long Covid and how best to treat it, which is where the Long Covid Research Initiative (LCRI) is looking to make its mark.
LCRI is led by a quartet of founders, one of whom is Dr. Amy Proll, a leading microbiologist at the PolyBio Research Foundation, has more than 10 years of experience studying conditions similar to Long Covid – Prole himself has been a patient of ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), which resembles Long Covid, for almost 20 years. Prole was joined by London-based product manager Henry Scott-Green, who has been away from his day job at Google’s YouTube for the past two years due to prolonged Covid; Helga Gutmann, formerly an investor at KKR; and Nick Harrold, former SaaS startup founder.
Move fast and fix things
Scott-Green first contracted Covid in August 2020, and the symptoms he experienced in the months and years that followed included what he calls “crushing fatigue” and brain fog. “I’ve improved significantly over the past year due to various treatments — at my worst, I was very sick and couldn’t even do basic things,” he explained to Technology Flow.
But his experiences trying to treat his condition, including working with health professionals, led him to the path he is on today — though he feels he’s been more fortunate than other long-term COVID sufferers.
“Two years ago, very few people – even doctors – knew about long covid, and even getting a diagnosis was very difficult,” says Scott-Green. “I was lucky enough to have access to great professionals who helped me a lot, but many people are not so lucky. Access to good quality care is still a huge problem for a huge number of people with this condition.
Although LCRI is substantially run from the UK, it is formally owned by the US-based PolyBio Research Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on studying complex chronic inflammatory diseases. Despite its non-profit status, the technical backgrounds of LCRI’s founders can serve as the foundation for something like a “lean” startup, and one that can address what Scott-Green calls the long-running Covid-19 “global public health emergency.”
Indeed, while some government-led funding programs and initiatives are well-intentioned and rigorous, Scott-Green says from her experience, things are moving too slowly, which is why LCRI is increasingly adopting an operating model. “Necessity and pragmatism” of startup.
“A long Covid research program that relies only on government grants will take a long time to show results,” he said. “As a patient, I recognize the need to provide rapid answers to the enormous number of people suffering worldwide.”
In support of his mission, the founders have gathered an amazing team of researchers and experts from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, UCSF, John Hopkins University and other renowned institutions, philanthropies and patient communities, who will work together towards solving Long. Covid.
“We run as a lean organization that emphasizes rapid execution and close collaboration — and generally, and where it makes sense, we try to apply organizational principles that have allowed technology to deliver large, ambitious projects quickly,” Scott-Green said. “This has allowed us to bring together a team of the world’s best researchers to work collaboratively to implement a shared research roadmap that addresses the most important questions in a non-routine model, the goal of solving the disease. Space.”
A virtual research institute
LCRI’s remote, collaborative nature — none of the founding team met in person — essentially made it a virtual research institution. And to achieve its mission, it plans to adopt a two-pronged approach to expand research and therapeutics.
For the initial research phase, scientists from some of the world’s most respected institutions will share their collective expertise and study the disease mechanisms that comprise Long Covid, while follow-on clinical trials will seek to put the results of the research program into real-world treatments.
None of this comes for free, but today’s funding announcement kicks in. Buterin, best known as one of the creators of the Ethereum blockchain, is investing about $15 million in the USDC stablecoin through the $100 million Balvi Fund. Established earlier this year Especially for COVID research projects. In addition, LCRI received commitments from the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation (CSSFF), a charitable body headed by surgeon, scientist and billionaire entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, along with his philanthropist wife Michelle B. Chan.
“Balvi and Vitalik reached out to Amy to ask about supporting her research projects, and the partnership grew from there,” says Scott-Green. “CSSFF has committed to a minimum donation, but we are still negotiating the final amount.”
While $15 million gives LCRI a good start, it’s not enough for the long term, which is why it’s aiming for nearly $100 million in funding in the coming years — with plans to eventually expand its model to related conditions like Epstein’s, Barr virus and enteroviruses. But first, they need to get to grips with the long covid.
“In one to two years, we want to raise significantly more funding for long-term Covid research and have extensive research and clinical trials programs underway,” continued Scott-Green. “We will get our first results from the research program and we will be able to use those results to inform our clinical trials efforts. Our sole focus is on finding answers for people suffering from chronic Covid, and our goals are to understand disease mechanisms and identify treatment options.