Music Beats Cancer selects and funds entrepreneurs who are actively working on solutions that fill critical gaps in standard treatments for cancer. The non-profit partners with musical artists to raise funds and awareness for worthy projects with the potential to save lives. They fund good ideas that may otherwise die because of lack of funding.
Want to be part of the team giving promising research discoveries a chance to become reality? Then join us for a conversation with the founder and Executive Director, Dr. Mona Jhaveri. She launched Music Beats Cancer to address the funding gaps so that more cancer research discoveries can become cancer treatments.
Learn about Music Beats Cancer and how you can be part of ensuring funding for the next promising innovation in the fight against cancer.
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Mona Jhaveri: Nice to meet you ladies. Thank you so much.
Joyce Griggs: So glad you're here. So listen everyone, welcome some this afternoon to our live stream. I'm here with my partner, Tracey, Tracey Welson-Rossman and we're here with Mona Jhaveri. Who - did I get it? Okay. All right. Who is the executive director and founder of Music Beats Cancer. And we are really delighted to be able to bring to you, as we always try to, innovators here in health and healthtech who are really putting us the patients and the consumers into the mix and Mona is doing that in a really super innovative way. So welcome. And Tracey, I don't know if there's anything else that you wanted to say before we got started.
Tracey Welson-Rossman: No, just super excited. I do want to apologize for the fact that I am in a hotel room, there's some messy beds behind me. But I'm here at South by Southwest, which is how I was just before we get into Mona's part, how Joyce and I met last year. So it's sort of, it's very funny that this timing worked out and getting a lot of talks around medtech and healthtech here, hope for new content, but I'm very excited. And also this is really funny that I'm here at South by because, of course, there's a huge music component. So those two things are coming together as well.
Joyce: Yeah, great.
Joyce: Yeah, so Mona, like, if we can just get started, tell us a little bit about the purpose of Music Beats Cancer. Like, how does it work and what led you to like, you know, start the whole thing?
Mona: Yeah, well, thank you both. I just want to see Tracey. I'm so jealous. I want to be there with you.
Tracey: Maybe next year, maybe we could be putting a panel together.
Mona: Yes, and there's been every year, I want to go because of exactly what you said. There's Tech. There's health. There's music. And what we do is at the cutting edge and we should be there. But in any case, so yeah I just a bit about my background. I'm a scientist by training. I have a doctorate in biochemistry. My expertise is what's called molecular biology. And basically, it means that I work with DNA and RNA and that's how I got started in my career. And I worked at the National Cancer Institute and I don't know if you've ever been to the National Institutes of Health. Have you, in Bethesda, Maryland? It's a huge campus of 70-odd, some-odd research buildings and I worked in Building 10, which is called the medical center. And what's really cool about the medical center is half the building is dedicated to research and the other half is a clinic for cancer patients. And I remember, and I was doing a postdoctoral, my postdoctoral training there, and I remember thinking back then, I don't know if what we're doing as researchers are is ever going to make it to the people on the other side of the building. I knew that we were a siloed people, you know, like, you know, we just publish and research papers, but whether it actually manifested in the real world was a whole other question. And and it was something that kind of weighed me even back then, but we never talked about it. Even as researchers, we never it was it was a very weird culture in that sense. Like, you know, you're doing cancer research but you don't know how and if ever, you know, this is going to become a clinical reality. And one day my lab, we had a discovery that took place. And it essentially, we discovered this sort of small piece of DNA that could selectively target and kill cancer cells. And so many of us scientists have these eureka moments, it's very exciting, and patents are filed and and inevitably these things go nowhere and they sit on shelves because the reality of it is we scientists are not the ones who actually find cures. We have a public that thinks researchers are looking for cures but we're not looking for cures. We're just discovering and these discoveries have to advance and if they don't advance, no one benefits and the people that advance them are the entrepreneurs, specifically, the biotech entrepreneurs. But we the public is unaware of who these people are and that there's an industry called biotech and that science has to become commercialized before it can ever be anything. For anyone. So I decided, you know, few years after that to just do just that to traverse my career and leave my academic world and become a biotech entrepreneur and to advance this targeted therapy. And I realized in that journey, just how hard that was to do from the perspective of raising money. And that I also realized just how arduous this commercialization path is because in fact, it takes on average, it takes two and a half a billion dollars and ten years to get a drug to market. And mostly there is failure. So, I mean, just put that in your mind and what that means and how hard it is to get something from the lab to the people with this kind of challenge is tremendous. So, at some point after, you know, raising money and having a lab, and starting this company, I realized we just can't. So I shut down the company. But once I shut the company down, the idea went away, right? This great idea that we discovered, and what we say in our industry, it fell in this Valley of Death. It's where these great ideas go to die, because they simply lack the funding to move forward. And in biotech, in our industry, we're consumed with the Valley of Death, we're trying, oh how we get through this Valley of Death, and what kind of funding, but the public is unaware of it, the public, is unaware that this this Valley of Death exists. And that there are thousands of ideas, great ideas, great potential solutions, lingering in our Valley, in this Valley of Death. So Music Beats Cancer was born specifically to address this Valley of Death. And we are a platform that again, solely focuses on entrepreneurs working on solutions for cancer. New treatments, therapies, diagnostics, targeted medicines, anything and everything that we think could move the needle. It, we devised a crowdfunding platform and the crowdfunding platform is not an equity. It's a charitable crowdfunding platform. And I felt very strongly that we needed charity to serve a different purpose than it normally served, because normally charities raise money, and they raise money to help pay up pay bills or help cover hospitals or support hospitals. In our case, this was charity for innovation to go to go to for-profit entities working on ideas. And I saw this money as, you know, we use the word venture philanthropy because that's really what it is. But I called it passion capital because what's happening is you have these companies with great ideas and they actually need to raise a round of passion capital but from the crowd of people who would support it. So that basically became our our model and then we realized when we launched, we said, oh my gosh, how we even going to reach this crowd? And that's where music came into play because we needed a medium to reach the masses but the masses didn't know what biotech is. They didn't know that science gets commercialized. They've been inculcated with rhetoric research for the cure for decades. Ever since Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, the rhetoric has been, you know, research for the cure and money has been infused into research platforms and labs. Not to biotech, not to commercialization because this is something that's happened over the past, say, couple of decades. And in fact, you know, I feel like it played out in the pandemic where people, we have this mRNA vaccine and people think it's new, but it's not new. This has been around for decades. This is what I did, you know as a, it's been around for decades. It's just only knew as an application. If you know what I mean. And so and I realized this rift and this silo, the danger of it because, in fact, all the science is going at such a fast speed, but we're just not translating it to the to the public and certainly to public policy and wisdom in the public. We're not offering, we don't have leaders in science that are offering what, you know, what we're doing and our wisdom as scientists such that, the people can take this on. And so I see platforms like South By, you know, to be very important for people like me and for others. I mean we know who Fauci is obviously, but we didn't before.
Tracey: We did not, no.
Mona: You know, this guy's been around for decades and we know he's a household name, but we need more household names to be out there talking about the great ideas going on so that the public can adopt it and be and back it in their way. And that's what our platform is and that's what we think our role needs to be is we need to be that bridge between people who care and want to see change in the war of cancer and people who are innovating, you know, to create this change. But that's how we work.
Tracey: So you talked a little bit. Oh I don't know why. Not sure why I'm echoing. Okay, thanks. So Mona you, we have an idea of how this works. It sounds, you know, if you could give us a little bit of an idea of, I'm coming in as a person who wants to help fund, what that would look like. And then also, if you could give us an idea of like how you choose whether you're the person who's choosing or it's the person who's coming in as the funder.
Mona: Right. So the way we work is a very similar sort of system to Kickstarter. In fact, sometimes I like to refer to our platform as a Kickstarter but for cancer solutions. And it was for the same idea, right? Because these guys needed a way to raise money or like, you know, Kickstarter was done for creatives. We're just a different kind of creative. And same thing, we put together online campaigns with these companies and it's a written part, a video, call to action. The only major difference is that we are a donation-based platform and the folks that donate are offering up a tax deductible dollar versus on Kickstarter, they're, they're sort of a pre-sale. So, but but the idea is the same. And so what happens is, I'm pretty steeped in the biotech space and so somehow these biotechs find me, you know. I'm just it just, it just comes to me through one way or the other and I do I and others, you know, making it, we vet. But not in a way that a that a VC would vet, or venture capitals would vet. We're not looking for the winners. And this was a big criticism when I started, because people said and well, you've got to pick the winners. Well, I don't know who the winners are. In fact, even venture firms don't know. They're just taking their best guess. But what I look at, what I think is important, is to look at these innovations and determine, is this something maybe the crowd could want? Maybe it's maybe it's not sexy in a certain way in terms of money making. But it's interesting and useful and inspiring to people who think this is a great, great thing to have as a tool. But we, but you know, what we like to say in investing is a lot of investors invest in the in the jockeying up a horse. Aside from looking at the science and making sure the science makes sense. I look at the team, I look at the passion of the team. I look, do they have the skills? Are they sober in how they're thinking about this? Just just all these sort of other components. And, and can they make a campaign compelling? And this is, I mean, maybe it sounds kind of, you know, yeah, of course, you know, this is obvious. But for scientists who have never scientists-turned-entrepreneurs who have never engaged a public, this is a really tall order and I will maintain that we still have trouble. I still have sort of troubles sort of coaching these scientists-turned-innovators to think and talk differently about what they're doing. Because we're so steeped in academia and into the minds and how, you know, how we function and we are so used to being siloed and never interacted with people, you know, even though it's those people that support research to begin with, right? Like, it's really the public that is supports our research labs.
Tracey: So what's interesting is you are doing a little bit of vetting to bring them to the platform?
Tracey: Not just anybody can do this?
Mona: No. In fact and that's why, Kickstarter, for example, could not have companies that they could not do this. If you try to apply to a Kickstarter, it wouldn't work. Because they wouldn't have the expertise to look at the science to determine, does this make sense to these people? I mean, and I do look at, you know, do they have a sound sort of path to market? Do they have patent applications? Or if they don't, which most people do, but now this is a different new thinking that some people don't feel like that's a, that's a wait for commercialization, they've got to sound, you know, like they have they know what they're doing. They have the team, they have the reach, they have resources, even beyond us. I guess that's, it's I like to think of it as the Gestalt. I look at all of the pieces.
Tracey: That’s great.
Joyce: Can you tell us a little bit about maybe a special project?
Mona: Yeah, you know, we have so many oh and this is what I love about what I do, is there's so many people that come to me with some interesting stuff and partly that's why they come because the regular VC in the box that a VC would invest in is so narrow. What they're looking for is a certain market and a certain in a type of technology, then if you're somehow outside that box, it's not going to happen for you. Even if it's the best thing, you know, even if it's a cool thing to have and patients really need it. I, for example, have I mean the examples are endless. I have a company that's coming on, for example, that they're going to they have a new way to kill tumors by heat. So basically these are colon cancers that they're looking at. But basically, they inject you with a nanorod and the nanorods go to your tumors. And then, when you get, do a colonoscopy, they put a they put a infrared heat at the end of the scope and they go to the tumor and they can melt the tumor from within. So it's non-invasive. It's using heat versus drugs. It's something, that they're not the first ones, I've heard of other companies doing stuff like this. And I'm thinking to myself, crowd could get around this. We also are doing healthtech as well. So we do biotech, but also healthtech cuz I think that's also important. People developing new ways simply just to make the system easier, whether it be with medical records or whether it be with a referral process. But then we have pure biotech people actually developing new molecules, the new monoclonal antibodies that are smaller and better and faster and can get into what where we typically have, and this is what I do look at, I look to see where the gaps are in treatment. So for example, in cancer, the big gap is metastatic disease. Often times once a patient presents, either a stage four or their disease progresses, we across all different kinds of cancers, we simply don't have medicines for them. So and one of the things that happens in many cancers is that the the cells metastasized to the brain. And then we have no way to treat that. So often times, we're looking for ways to get medicine to the brain and there's some really fascinating ways that people are doing that. This one company has a very small monoclonal antibody made from sort of a camel antibody that can kind of go through the blood-brain barrier. I think all these ideas are they, they're needed and they should be tested and they principles should be proven before they are sort of thrown out, at least the way I see it. And it's also, you know, how we thought, how we think about treating cancer has changed a lot. We've gone through an era of targeted medicines, and they were there are many targeted medicines on the market that are that amass billions in sales each year, Avastin is one of them. And I don't know if you know the story of Avastin but at that barely happened with Judah Folkman and he couldn't get anybody to back him. And suddenly Genentech took it on and suddenly became a med, it's it's been approved for multiple cancers, and last in 2019 it amassed seven billion in sales. So you never know what's going to work. But but that, too, Avastin has its drawbacks and targeted medicine has its drawbacks. So, now we have a new new kind of thinking about sort of, can we use the harness the immune system? And can we make the immune system better? So this is the creativity is just endless when you talk to entrepreneurs and who knows what's going to work?
Tracey: Right, it's interesting here, I just went to a talk today and, you know, it's hard when you're starting to get to that next level to get to friends and family, to get to angel investing, so having this, you know, opportunity to get some fundraising, to try out the idea to, you know, to continue it as one of the founders said, it was like whatever you need to do to get your idea to continue to go until you can get to the next level. We do have a question which I think we should answer because I have another question but I don't want to miss this one. What's the most promising company you have invested in?
Mona: Yeah, it's hard. It's hard to say, except some of them have been pretty exciting. So for example, we had a company that they were developing a new way, I really love this technology, it's like a new way to detect disease early. And this is very important and it's something I think the crowd really cares about. Everybody wants an early way to detect. And I say this, because if you talk to VC's, we tend to be a more drug-oriented investment platform. But if you talk to the people, they want a ways to prevent cancer and they want ways to screen. And this one company had a way to screen, has a way to screen cancer, where they detect some of the early aspects of the immune launch and they're called the interferons. And let's just say, you get, you get a flu or I get the flu, your interferons are launched even before you know you have it or feel anything. And their technology is capable of detecting these interferons. There are only 21 of them, say, and they and each each disease would have a signature interferon, and so they would figure out what the signature interferon is for, for ovarian cancer, which is a deadly cancer. And if you do not detect it at stage one, it's really hard to beat this disease. So that's why they created this kind of, this sort of, again it's a PCR-based, this before even people were saying the word PCR, you know, they this was on our platform, it's a PCR-based way for detecting. And I just love that technology because I think it's so appropriate in so many ways and they had had a tough time getting off the ground. But what was interesting? Then came the pandemic and they pivoted and they said, okay, if we can do this for ovarian cancer, we should do this for Covid and they did, and then they, and then we, and then from there, they were on the news, you know, via our platform, they got on the news and the news got was really interested in it. So I would say that that that particular one kind of stands out, but there's so many that are doing just really great stuff.
Joyce: So, signature signature interferon, it sounds like the name of a band. Can, can you tell us a little bit about like the musicians, you know, because it's the music part of it that's so interesting. Talk, can you talk to us about some of the musicians involved with you.
Mona: So like I mentioned, the issue we had was now how do we change how people are thinking about charity? How people people are thinking about the war on cancer and how do we even get to the people? We don't have any popular culture, popular culture forums except South by Southwest and even then I was a speaker there in 2018 and I was shocked how that was the very year that immunotherapies were approved by the FDA and we saw cures. And I couldn't understand why that wasn't celebrated all over you know in a place like a forum like South by and that was the year Joe Biden was there with Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas and they were talking about moonshot. And but they didn't talk about the innovation and that really bothered me and I thought, no, we got to change that. And so, and so, the music part was was just that, it's the medium, it's the torch. And when we began people said, well, you know, get a celebrity and, you know, and we tried, and of course, you know, that's much easier said than done. And somehow we stumbled on working with independent artists. And I started, I was pleasantly surprised when I started reaching independent artists and the reason is because I found that these artists were so authentic. So caring, willing to push their fanbase, willing to do whatever it took, it and I realized that they were the right people for us. They were the right messenger and we decided we'd create, you know, a platform of independent artists. And we now have 200 some odd artists on our platform. Our vision is to have thousands and we sort of work with ReverbNation, which is a big, I guess, artist, you know, platform. And that's how we source our artists. And there's no shortage of artists who want to get behind us and join what we're doing. And the way we work, with the artists is that we put on, we put together challenges. We call them the #musicbeatscancer challenge, just very much like the ice bucket challenge where the artists who raise the most will get something special. And it was a meeting with a record label or it was, you know, now we're working with iHeartRadio and iHeart has offered up many interesting things like the artist who raised the most, so the top four or five, will get their song aired on the radio. Well, everybody wants their song on the radio. So we started doing these things. I mean these, what was so ideal about it is that it's a way to virtually raise money and it's a way to virtually give exposure to artists that they couldn't normally get. And what iHeart would then do is take their song, a snippet of their song and then sort of put a little piece of why they cared about the mission and then they would are it on the radio and it was such a powerful, it was like a, I want to say, it was like sort of a powerful snippet that you heard the artists music and you heard why they cared and it made you, it reinforced the song, the artist, the brands, I thought it was a win for all of us and so that's and then the moneys that we raise through the artists, we use that to match the crowd or the campaigns. So, if the crowd is supporting a breast cancer diagnostic, we'll use what the artist's raised to match it and to incentivize the raise. And that way the artists are amplifying the voice of the public. You know, versus we are not, the whole point of the crowd platform is to not have a committee pick where money should go. It should be the people that decide where the money goes.
Tracey: So Mona, we have. Technology. So we have blown through the 30 minutes. It just went by so quickly, what a great session today. We would love to close out by just let us know how, you know, our audience, whether they're live today or watching us on YouTube can get involved.
Mona: Yeah we so appreciate it and thank you so much for all this time to share the story. So we're musicbeatscancer.org, we'd love for people to come visit our website, check out our campaigns, and also check out the artists. I mean, we literally just completed a challenge, it ended at 11:59 p.m. last night and artists raised each of them were raising in the 7,000 range and we had 40 artists competing. I mean it just, it just touches my heart how much they care.
Tracey: Well it seems it seems like you should be at South by. We need to figure this out how to bring this convergence together. Certainly there's a lot of independent artists here. So we should talk offline about this.
Mona: I’d love to.
Tracey: Mona, this has just been great. Really, really appreciate your time. Love the work that you're doing and on behalf of myself and Joyce, you know, perhaps you can come back in a little bit with maybe one of the groups that you're funding.
Mona: Perfect. I'd love to do that. Thank you so much.
Tracey: Thank you.
Mona: Tracey and Joyce, take care.
Tracey: Thank you, bye.