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Immunity Project – are we moving towards a new era of crowdfunded medical research?


A strange thing just happened. A group of Harvard, MIT and Stanford university ‘scientists and entrepreneurs’ have emerged from their shadowy labs somewhere deep in the heart of the Californian jungle, to register a project to fight HIV and AIDS. What’s interesting is the fact that the Immunity Project, as it’s called, has not only signed on with the prestigious YCombinator startup incubator scheme, but it’s also gone straight to the people to ask for funding for a crucial part of their research.

The non-profit Until There’s a Cure behind the project team have set up a full feature crowdfunding site to help fund a completely free HIV/AIDS vaccine, thereby neatly circumventing the traditional route to market of conventional big pharma backing. This could actually be a huge thing!


One of the problems of big pharma approach to research funding is the fact that the costs of the research are so huge that they need an equally massive guaranteed return on investment to make it worthwhile. And for products which can do the most good in the developing world such as Africa, these returns are far from certain. And so the chances of it being done get slimmer.


By going direct to the caring public, the team hope to be able to home-run human trials quickly and effectively and thereby bypass all the typical big pharma hassles en route. It’s a really fascinating idea and one which, if it succeeds, could really change the way that projects like this are funded in the future.


It’s hard not to see this as an amazing opportunity to change the face of medical research in a big way. Sure there are significant risks involved, since many medical research projects fall at some point in the race to completion, but we can see this being ideal for smaller scale research, say for specialist and/or rare genetic diseases, where large scale funding is simply not feasible.

It’s going to be interesting to see just how this idea pans out, but we have to commend everyone involved for pushing the envelope on this initiative, because it’s something that genuinely does have the possibility of changing the world. Amazing!

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.

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