Covid revealed what science can do when funding is found
By Gillian Tett
When Covid-19 hit America in the spring of 2020, Jean Bennett, a professor of biomedicine at the University of Pennsylvania, started killing her prized collection of research mice. One reason was that the lockdown partly shuttered laboratories. Another was that the battle against the virus sucked resources, money and people away from other medical problems such as blindness, which is what Bennett’s team studies. …“We call this the Valley of Death,” says Karen Petrou, a financier who wrote the Foundation Fighting Blindness report and is deeply involved in raising money for medical research, not least because she happens to be blind. The issue is that while scientists often scrape together enough public-sector cash to do initial breakthrough studies, they struggle to get money to develop them — until their concepts are proven. “That’s why you read headlines about breakthrough research, but then nothing more comes of it,” says Petrou. She wants to find a solution to the “Valley of Death” so has created a proposal for the US government to issue $30bn worth of “BioBonds” that would be sold to private investors, with the government and philanthropic organisations on the hook to take the first chunk of any losses if something goes wrong.