Alumni Gifts Launch Entrepreneurial Accelerator

Five Dartmouth College alumni and health care investors have committed a total of $1.4 million in gifts to launch the Dartmouth Innovations Accelerator for Cancer. This initiative will help Dartmouth researchers bring innovations to the marketplace for the benefit of cancer patients, and will provide students with opportunities in biomedical entrepreneurship. 

“Philanthropy can literally accelerate the development of new therapies and diagnostic tools—shaving off years from the pre-clinical and clinical trials timeline.”

—Steven Leach, Cancer Center Director

“The best, most efficient way for us to bring Dartmouth’s biomedical discoveries to cancer patients around the world is through entrepreneurship,” says Steven Leach, MD, the Preston T. and Virginia R. Kelsey Professor at the Geisel School of Medicine and director of Norris Cotton Cancer Center, which is jointly operated by Geisel and Dartmouth-Hitchcock. A core component of The Call to Lead campaign, the Cancer Center aims to transform cancer care on a global scale through next-generation immunotherapy, precision prevention, entrepreneurship, and educating future leaders.

“Philanthropy can literally accelerate the development of new therapies and diagnostic tools—shaving off years from the pre-clinical and clinical trials timeline,” says Leach.

A joint initiative of the Cancer Center, Geisel, and Dartmouth’s Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship, the Accelerator has a goal of raising $15 million in philanthropy by 2022 and is a major priority within The Call to Lead campaign. With this first round of support, the Accelerator will sponsor its first projects this academic year. Researchers will pitch ideas to a panel of national biotech leaders and investors who will select the most commercially promising projects that address unmet needs. 

“Much like the best companies my firm invests in, Geisel and the Cancer Center are deeply committed organizations with a really clear sense of shared purpose, and that’s exciting,” says Todd Sisitsky D’93, chair of the Geisel Board of Advisors and managing partner at the investment firm TPG Global, where he has overseen health care investments of more than $9 billion. 

Sisitsky is one of five alumni who have committed their personal philanthropy to this effort. He is joined by Hoyoung Huh  D’91, founder of Healthcare & Humanity Foundation; Ross Jaffe D’80, co-founder and managing director of Versant Ventures; Stephen Bloch D’84, CEO of EvolveImmune Therapeutics and general partner of Canaan Partners; and Steven Rodgers D’93, head of health care investing for Morgan Stanley Capital Partners.

This team is building a network of alumni leaders and donors who will support the Accelerator through their professional engagement and personal philanthropy.

Now Is the Time

The Accelerator builds on three decades of entrepreneurial successes. Fourteen start-ups have their roots in the Cancer Center. The oldest and most successful Cancer Center spinoff is Medarex, which developed the first approved immunotherapies for cancer and was purchased by Bristol Myers Squibb for a record price in 2009. Royalties from the sale of Medarex benefit Dartmouth researchers today in the form of grants. 

“We are launching the Accelerator through philanthropy, but our goal is to work toward a model where the Accelerator will eventually support itself,” says Jamie Coughlin, director of the Magnuson Center. “This is a well-established evergreen approach to investing, and now is the time to build this at Dartmouth.”

To discuss making a gift to the Cancer Center, email Bethany.Solomon@Dartmouth.edu or call 603-653-0793

By Jennifer Durgin