While the global pandemic may be nearing completion for many, millions of people around the world are still suffering from the long-term effects of COVID-19. Studies suggest that somewhere between 20% and 40% of those who contracted COVID-19 experience at least some long-term symptoms, ranging from mild fatigue and “brain fog”, to more serious debilitating conditions such as headaches, illness, muscle weakness, and difficulty breathing.
LCRI is led by a quartet of founders including: dr. Amy Proala leading microbiologist at the Polybio Research Foundation with over 10 years of experience studying conditions similar to Lung COVID – Proal itself is a ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) patient, who has been comparable to Lung COVID for nearly 20 years. Proal is accompanied by Henry Scott-Greena London-based product manager who has been absent from his day job at Google’s YouTube for the past two years due to Long COVID; Helga Gutmane, former investor at KKR; and Nick Harrold, a former founder of SaaS startups.
Move fast and fix things
Scott-Green first contracted COVID in August 2020, and the symptoms he experienced in the months and years that followed include what he calls “crushing fatigue” and brain fog. “I’ve improved significantly over the past year thanks to a variety of treatments — at worst, I was very unwell and couldn’t even perform basic tasks,” he explained to londonbusinessblog.com.
But it was his experiences trying to treat his condition, including working with health professionals, that set him on the path to where he is today – although he feels he has been luckier than some other Lung COVID patients.
“Two years ago, very few people — doctors included — knew about lung COVID, and it was hard to even get a diagnosis,” Scott-Green said. “I was lucky enough to eventually find my way to great specialists who helped me a lot, but a lot of people are not so lucky. Getting good quality care is still a huge problem for the vast majority of the huge number of people with this condition.”
While LCRI is substantively run from the UK, it officially belongs to the US-based PolyBio Research Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation that focuses on studying complex chronic inflammatory diseases. Despite its non-profit status, the LCRI founders’ tech background could serve as the foundation for something more akin to a “lean” startup, providing a solution to what Scott-Green called the “global emergency.” public health,” lung COVID.
In fact, as well-intentioned and rigorous as some of the government-led funding programs and initiatives were, Scott-Green said that from his experience, things are just moving way too slowly, which is why LCRI is adopting a business model more akin to the “urgency and pragmatism” of a startup.
“A long COVID research program that relies only on government grants would take a long time to show results,” he said. “As a patient, I recognized the need to act faster and provide quick answers to the sheer number of people suffering around the world.”
To support its mission, the founders have developed an impressive team of researchers and specialists from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, UCSF, John Hopkins University, among other renowned institutions, philanthropists and patient communities, who will work together to solve Lung COVID.
“We operate as a lean organization that prioritizes fast execution and close collaboration – and generally, and where it makes sense, seek to apply the organizational principles that have enabled technology to quickly deliver large, ambitious projects” said Scott-Green. “This has enabled us to bring together a team of the world’s best researchers to collaborate in a model that is not so common, on a mission to solve a disease and execute a shared research roadmap that the most pressing questions in space.”
A virtual research institute
The remote, collaborative nature of LCRI – none of the founders have met in person – essentially makes it a virtual research institution. And it plans to take a two-pronged approach to achieve its mission, which includes research and therapy.
For the first phase of research, scientists from some of the world’s most esteemed institutions will share their collective expertise and study the disease mechanisms that shape Lung COVID, while follow-up clinical trials will aim to turn the findings of the research program into real treatments.
None of this is free, of course, and that’s where today’s funding announcement comes into play. Buterin, better known as one of the creators of the Ethereum blockchain, is investing about $15 million in USDC stablecoin through the $100 million Balvi fundwhich he set up earlier this year specifically for COVID research projects. In addition, LCRI has received pledges from the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation (CSSFF), a charity led by surgeon, scientist and billionaire businessman Patrick Soon-Shiong with his philanthropist wife Michele B. Chan.
“Balvi and Vitalik reached out to Amy to ask if she wanted to support her research projects, and the collaboration grew from there,” says Scott-Green. “CSSFF has made commitments to donate with a minimum, but we are still in talks about the final amount.”
While $15 million gives LCRI a good start, it probably won’t be enough for the long term, which is why it’s targeting about $100 million in funding over the next few years — with plans to eventually expand the model into related circumstances such as Epstein-Barr virus and enteroviruses. But first they need to master Lung COVID.
“In one to two years, we aim to have raised substantially more funding for Lung COVID research and have extensive research and clinical trial programs underway,” Scott-Green continued. “We will have our first results from the research program and we will be able to use those results to inform our clinical trials efforts. Our sole focus is on finding answers for the people suffering from Lung COVID, and our goals to understand the disease mechanisms and identify treatment options.”