Treat You Better; Let’s Talk Impact in Biomedicine

Flat World Partners
5 min readDec 23, 2021


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Health has never been as central to global policy making as it has the past two years. Disparities between developed and developing nations were exacerbated, inequality within countries were highlighted, and the fragility of public health came to the forefront. I had the pleasure of participating in the Partnering for Patients forum, put together by the FastersCures center of the Milken Institute this week. As a member of the impact investing community, I had two key takeaways related to biotech:

First, almost two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, deeply rooted systemic inequities in health care and research continue to persist. Starkly, the effects of the pandemic resulted in the highest mortality rates among racial and ethnic minorities. Historical mistrust of health systems and medical research on the part of underrepresented groups is a contributing factor. Diverse representation in clinical trials is thus an important step both to prove clinical effectiveness and to explain the benefits and risks of treatments to underrepresented populations in racial and ethnic subgroups. While this gap narrowed in the context of COVID-19 vaccine trials, black and brown populations continue to be under-represented.

However, there is not an easy solution to achieve the trust of these groups given the historical atrocities committed by the healthcare system against minorities in the “name of research.” Transmuting that distrust requires effort from all stakeholders across the biomedical research and innovation ecosystem to build trust systematically and overcome generations of neglect of health priorities among underrepresented communities. This is especially critical for health data to be generated to ensure effective outcomes across many population groups. One identified solution is to establish a nationally coordinated US community-based clinical trials network, but that is just a step.

Second, in the biomedical arena “venture philanthropy” from disease specific foundations is being deployed with increasing sophistication to de-risk investment in medical product development by investing directly in companies with some expectation of return. But more commercial-return seeking impact investors have not been as deeply focused on life sciences as they have on climate mitigation or sustainability.

Part of the reason for this gap is the complexity of underwriting binary-outcome biomedical research which requires a deep technical sophistication with multi-year development before commercialization. Multi-strategy impact investors do not have the tools of traditional biotech investors who typically have teams of PhD-holding or medically-trained professionals performing analysis.

Another barrier has been the lack of development or adoption of ESG metrics. Investors and companies tend to focus on the effectiveness of a treatment but not the overall social application in terms of populations served or future affordability. The third barrier is a lack of alignment on what constitutes impact in pharma. Some may define it as commercial research gaps for orphan diseases that remain untreated, while others focus on large disease burdens in areas such as diabetes that have larger societal impacts.

Innovations in biomedicine have been a crucial part of adapting our society to dealing with a new global reality. The amazing pace in which we are able to retool our economy and society to produce nearly unthinkable innovations in a year since the pandemic started speaks to our ability to deal with complex scientific applications. have shown ourselves capable of innovating in ways that few thought possible. Hopefully we can leverage our collective learnings from COVID-19 to streamline the biomedical research pipeline and, ultimately, benefit a greater portion of society.

Derek Brooks, VP, Directs

In contrast to the criticism it has received in guarding its vaccine patents, Pfizer pledges equitable access to COVID-19 pills through a new licensing agreement.

Browsing through the US Government’s database of clinical trials gives a wealth of information of medical innovations in the pipeline.

Francis Collins, an attendee of the forum and father of the Human Genome Project, is stepping down as director of the National Institutes of Health. Did you know he is also a musician?

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