Curing cancer: could crowdfunding be the answer?

Have you ever chipped in cash for a crowdfunded project? Maybe a local coffee roastery start-up, a friend’s expedition to the Antarctic, or studio time for a musician’s debut album? How about charity sponsorships? A few quid for an ice-bucket challenge, or a tenner for a 10K run? With all our single-click online pay plans in place and an ever-growing air of philanthropy engendered by the Internet, it seems we are always happy to put our money where our mouse is for one project or another. Logically it’s only a matter of time before these trends converge and we move into a world of crowdfunding for cancer research. So how might this look, and are we there already?

Why crowdfund?

Funding for medical research, including the big C, is not as easy to come by as you might think. Resources from charities and governments go through stringent testing and allocation procedures and the powers that be might not always have chance to appreciate the urgency of a breakthrough or the research potential of a project with the speed most researchers would like. Crowdfunding offers an alternative method of fundraising that can accelerate the acquisition of much-needed cash while those larger funding wheels are still in motion. In fact, that’s already happening in some places.

The power of the personal touch

Half the people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with a form of cancer in their lifetime. Cancer is extremely personal, and our motivation for putting our hand in our pocket is often related to how our own lives have been affected by it. Crowdfunding offers a way to tap into this well of personal investment, allowing for particular forms of cancer, and the research that focuses on them, to generate overlooked public support. It’s no secret that some types of cancer receive much broader media coverage, and therefore money, than others – crowdfunding offers a possible route for directing funds towards rarer forms of cancer where breakthroughs might be just around the corner.

The maverick approach

Scientific breakthrough has often been the province of the maverick thinker, but these days vast research funding bodies might not always allow for those wild cards of science to explore with the freedom needed for that vital discovery. In short, big business doesn’t always see profit potential in early research days when cashflow is so essential. Crowdfunded research offers a possible alternative to a much slower cap-in-hand big business approach. One good example is the group of self-styled ‘guerrilla researchers’ who are currently looking into the cancer that killed Steve Jobs. They have turned to crowdfunding as a way to keep their current anti-cancer virus project moving forward. If successful, this would surely establish crowdfunding as a serious contender in the brave new world of cancer research.

Crowdfunded projects typically encourage support by offering a range of enticing product loyalty benefits to their supporters, depending on the amount individuals are willing to pledge. Cancer research crowdfunding can compete there too – an end in sight for cancer is surely the biggest crowdfunding loyalty enticement of all.

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