Can AI Help Locate Low-Cost Cancer Treatments? These Funders Want to Find Out

April 4, 2023

Posted in Inside Philanthropy on April 3, 2023
By: Paul Karon

Cancer is the second-most common cause of death in the United States. Every year, about 2 million Americans are diagnosed with some form of the disease. Doctors do what they can with the treatment options they have, but still, about 600,000 patients die. Meanwhile, patients who lack good insurance can’t access all available treatment options, because money.

Speaking of money, as if having a serious disease isn’t bad enough, the whole cancer treatment journey — even for those with good insurance — can annihilate a lifetime of savings in a matter of months. But there is a ready trove of thousands of potentially effective and affordable cancer treatments within reach: Familiar medicines long used to treat diseases other than cancer, now available as generics, but which have already shown anticancer promise. And several funders with interests in both healthcare and equity are backing an innovative, artificial-intelligence-based approach to turn these older generics into new cancer treatments.

Arnold Ventures, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Lyda Hill Philanthropies and Amazon Web Services’ IMAGINE Grant Program are among the funders that have invested $1 million in Boston-area nonprofit startup Reboot Rx. Launched in 2020, the company aims to fast-track generic drugs for use as cancer treatments. Reboot Rx is working across the spectrum of the task: first identifying generics that might fight cancer, organizing funding and research partnerships to generate definitive clinical evidence that the drugs work, and finally, helping create the policies that would let doctors readily prescribe them. Laura Kleiman, founder and CEO of Reboot Rx, is a cancer researcher by training, most recently at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. She launched Reboot Rx after a personal experience with cancer, when her mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Seeking additional treatment options for her mother’s difficult illness, Kleiman turned up numerous studies of drugs originally developed to treat other diseases that showed effectiveness in fighting cancers.

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