By Allie Ilagan, Wharton Social Impact Initiative
When David Fajgenbaum was first diagnosed with multicentric Castleman disease—an extremely rare immune system disorder—he took comfort in the idea that the medical community was working tirelessly to develop effective treatments that would save his life.
But the then-Penn Medicine student soon learned that treatment for such uncommon conditions isn’t always top priority. So he decided to create a solution for better research and drug development.
Cure Accelerator, the business plan he formed with three peers, is a centralized data platform focused on eradicating rare diseases. Developed by Fajgenbaum (M’13/WG’15), and teammates Grant Mitchell (M’14/WG’14), Daniel van den Bergh (WG’15), and Greg Davis, the collaborative tool aims to encourage widespread sharing of research data, dramatically accelerate pharmaceutical development, and give patients a place for hope, community, and ultimately—a cure.
“The journey from ICU to a world’s expert in his own disease has helped David… uncover multiple inefficiencies and misalignments of incentives in the rare disease space. The experience has also given [us] the know-how and drive to fix them,” explains the team, noting that only 5% of the 7,000 rare diseases have FDA-approved treatments at this time.
Cure Accelerator aims to close this gap by “collecting clinically-actionable data and aligning incentives throughout the healthcare value chain.” A patient registry platform centralizes clinical data and performs analytics to identify potentially effective treatments, and to accelerate the development of new therapies.
The Social Impact Prize, which was established in 2014 and is sponsored by Wharton Social Impact Initiative, is bestowed upon the strongest semifinalist team that fully embraces and integrates social impact into their venture.
“We are inspired by the many students who come to Wharton with the intent of using their Wharton training to create positive social impact in their communities and in the world,” says Sherryl Kuhlman (WG’01), Managing Director of Wharton Social Impact Initiative. “The Social Impact prize allows us to recognize and foster social entrepreneurs who bring business acumen to pressing social problems.”
The Social Impact Prize symbolizes an expanding social impact presence at Wharton, and across the University as a whole.
The students’ ideas also demonstrate the resourceful nature of social enterprises, and the need for cross-sector collaboration. Last year’s winning business, Dana Cita, sought to bridge the education financing and employment gaps for youth in Indonesia. Businesses embracing healthcare and technology were popular this year; other 2014-2015 semifinalists included innovations in care from both patient and physician perspectives, as well as new ideas in food and nutrition, personal fitness, and more.
Rachel Beck W’16 and Deepa Iyer WG’16, Committee Directors of Social Impact for the Business Plan Competition, did tremendous work to make this year’s prize such a success. The Social Impact Prize winner was judged by a panel that included:
- Bob Hornsby WG’00, Managing Partner & Founder, JOBOMAX Global LTD
- Ami Dalal C’99/W’99/WG’05, Social Financial Services, Ashoka
- Lisa Rickert WG’96, Director of CGI International, Clinton Global Initiative
- Goldie Shturman WG’09, Investment Officer, Inter-American Investment Corporation
- Amy Wang G’12/WG’12, AVP, Global Social Finance, Deutche Bank
“We are extremely grateful to be the recipient of the prestigious Social Impact Prize,” says Fajgenbaum, “The judges’ positive review of our business model also highlights the movement that is occurring towards giving patients power over their medical records and opportunities to engage in the research process.”
He credits the team’s Wharton training, particularly within the Healthcare Management program, as a great influence in applying business principles to solve a major medical challenge.
“Our selection represents the opportunity that exists in the rare disease space to better utilize scarce resources to save lives,” says Fajgenbaum.
Of the 25 semifinalist teams, eight finalists will now advance to the Venture Finals of the Wharton Business Plan Competition, where winners will be chosen on Thursday, April 30, 2015.