The first decentralized collective to fund women’s health research: the biggest untapped market in healthcare.
Scientific research is incredible but slow and expensive.
Everything you love, from having a longer lifespan to being able to read this on your phone was made possible because a researcher or scientist had enough passion to test a theory, or inadvertently discovered something.
Everything starts with science.
The problem with Women’s Health Research
Unfortunately, science has radically underdelivered for women. It’s the 21st century, and to put it simply, “We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology.”
Women are the “chief medical officers” of their homes. They make up half of the world’s population and are responsible for 80% of the healthcare decisions at home. Yet, when it comes to investing capital or working on health innovations for them, they are still viewed as “niche” - a charitable endeavour best handled by foundations or an impact investment. Furthermore, female purchasing power drives the second biggest industry by revenue in the US, drugs, cosmetics, and toiletry wholesaling.
So why are we not paying attention? Things start to defy logic.
Unlike oncology which receives a disproportionate amount of dollars vs patients’ needs, women’s health issues are disproportionately underfunded.
For example, menopause research receives $0 per affected patient, even though it has the highest amount of impacted patients. Meanwhile, ovarian cancer, with the lowest number of patients, gets $375. Cancer is horrible - but considering the incredible amount of capital in R&D that has gone into this area, and limited progress, is the right allocation of resources 375:0?
Sadly, from a funding perspective, cancer is the one exception to the rule when it comes to women’s health.
Treating women’s health as a philanthropic effort rather than being valued for what it is - a massive economic opportunity - is confounding at best and silly at worst.
Approximately 1 percent of healthcare research and innovation is invested in female-specific conditions beyond oncology.
There is an incredible trove of articles, whitepapers from research institutions, and compelling literature such as Caroline Criado-Perez’s “Invisible Women'' book, that have highlighted the gender inequalities in research. Most recently, RAND Corporation - an American nonprofit global policy think tank - commissioned by Women’s Health Access Matters published a very comprehensive report on the huge potential economic impact of funding women’s health research. Investing $350 million could generate $14 billion for our economy. These calls to action have led to some marginal increases in funding for women’s health research, but the funding for basic science is still left to the NIH or philanthropy, where it lags as dramatically as ever.
Investing $350 million could generate $14 billion for our economy
DAOs - A New Framework for Funding
If everything starts with science, then we need to do more to fund research, but rather than rely on current models, we need to test new models. And ideally, models that can include women as active participants and beneficiaries.
This can’t be a traditional venture fund, because the mandate of venture firms is to bring returns to LPs. The only beneficiaries in the returns are the fund and its LPs.
It doesn’t work as a typical foundation either, because such foundations operate as non-profits, an economically handicapped model for this cause.
Enter the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) framework. Public blockchain technology allows for new forms of labour and capital organization and coordination.
As outlined by the Ethereum Foundation they are:
Member-owned communities without centralized leadership
A safe way to collaborate with internet strangers
A safe place to commit funds to a specific cause
The opportunities a DAO provides:
While academia provides prestige and a well-established framework - technology is creating new opportunities to organize differently.
With a DAO, any woman can become an agent of change. They can contribute, discover, vote on, and fund the science that will lead to solutions for them.
Translational and Transformative Research Funding
AthenaDAO intends to fund very early science and research as well as more mature innovations that can lead to results fast. To start we will focus on what one of our senior reviewers and advisers called “translational & transformative” research - work that can lead to changes in women’s health outcomes in the short to medium term.
We are starting with the most underfunded area of all: women’s reproductive health. Within this category we are focusing on the areas that are again, the least funded:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Why start there? Besides lack of funding, overlooked areas are often the source of disproportionate opportunity.
Our funding focus will be on the following categories:
Idea - Early science. Grants & fellowships
Support - Additional funding for grantees in other existing programs
Translational - Research that can lead to IP, therapeutics, platforms, and devices
Startup - Very early-stage & new startups
Our initial primary focus will be on “Translational” & “Startup”.
We will start by considering rolling applications per area of research on a quarterly basis and change accordingly as we see the type of applications and interest from the community.
As the DAO grows and we are able to evaluate more projects we will both sharpen and expand our scope, based on estimated outcomes.
Long-term areas of interest that can also lead to other business models include:
Creating companies out of generated research/IP
Exploring the model of our community being recruited to clinical trials and getting early information and access.
Creating women’s health data libraries
Creating wider access to lab space focused on women’s health research
Supporting open-source and open science for women’s health research
Creating a platform where software, data, and machine learning engineers partner with researchers to focus on women’s biological complexity.
One of the core mandates in our mission and one that we could accomplish much faster is to amplify awareness, interest, and resources into the space.
Funding and IP ownership
AthenaDAO is using Molecule’s IP-NFT Framework to acquire and invest in research IP. This allows the IP rights to be issued and traded on the Ethereum blockchain and guarantees the DAO’s IP ownership or exclusive licensing rights to use the IP.
We are working with experts partners in decentralized science to power our mission.
To learn more about Molecule’s IP-NFT Framework check here.
Women’s health research funding needs new models and proposals. AthenaDAO aims to collaborate and contribute to existing research organizations and institutions. More importantly, to establish a presence within the Decentralised Science (DeSci) movement to represent and create opportunities for an underserved area in science: women’s health research.
AthenaDAO is building to make a contribution to the women’s health research space. Although we all personally believe in our cause, it is our contributors and community that truly make achieving our mission possible.
At DAOs, people are the centers of success. Without you, our progression is limited.
If you believe in our mission, we would love for you to get involved! There are several ways in which you can contribute:
Join our Discord and say hi!
Do you know or are you a scientist? Fill out this form or send someone our way!
Get onboarded to be a contributor! You can apply via the form here.
Follow us on our socials and share our announcements.
We appreciate your interest and thank you for taking the time to learn more about our mission.
By: Laura Minquini, Core Lead.
Contributors: Inês Santos Silva, Core Operations; Dr. Maria Marinova, Core Science; Adam Gries, Advisor; Victoria Dmitruczyk, Contributor.