An article in the San Diego Union Tribune on June 20 outlined how Robert Beall, chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) transformed investments in early-stage science for cystic fibrosis (CF) research.

Beall first shared a new funding idea 7 years ago to an audience of only 7 people. Beall’s idea was “to give millions to biotechnology companies so they could do research on early-stage projects aimed at curing cystic fibrosis,” says the San Diego Union Tribune article.

Beall told the Tribune that the lack of interest in this new idea was due to the 30,000 Americans affected by the disease. Although CF is eventually fatal, the comparatively small number of patients doesn’t lend itself to much incentive for drug companies to invest millions of dollars in developing a treatment.

According to Beall, venture-capital investors had grown averse to investing in risky early-stage biotech research. This led Beall to his new idea of “venture philanthropy.” Beall wanted his foundation to provide money for the research during early-stage discoveries, in hopes that companies might continue their development programs.

Over the years since this first presentation, interest in the funding model has increased exponentially, leading to $75 million invested in biotechnology companies in 2007, $48 million coming from the CFF alone.

“We really changed the paradigm of early drug discovery for orphan diseases,” Beall told the Tribune.

Today other organizations such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation are also utilizing “venture philanthropy” to help with research costs.