Crowdfunding A Cure for the Common Cold–MIT Researcher Aims to End All Viral Diseases

In an Indiegogo campaign launched yesterday, Todd Rider, Ph.D, hopes to raise $2 million to further fund his Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers (DRACOs), which “may end ALL viral diseases,” according to the campaign’s website.

The claim may sound lofty, but it’s backed by 15 years of research. His technology, invented in 2000, evolved from previous work with a Cellular Analysis and Notification of Antigen Risks and Yields (CANARY) biosensor, “which used genetically engineered luminescent white blood cells to identify pathogens in a very rapid, sensitive, and specific manner,” according to Rider.

“I realized that if CANARY detected pathogenic bacteria to which people had been exposed, there were a number of available antibiotics that might be used for treatment, yet if CANARY detected pathogenic viruses, there were very few available antiviral therapeutics,” he said. “So I was motivated to launch a new project to develop novel, very broad-spectrum therapeutics.”

Once a virus infects a cell, it replicates by producing double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). DRACO detects the general structure of dsRNA — present only in infected, not healthy, human and animal cells — then triggers a “suicide switch” within the cell. Named after Draco of Athens, a harsh leader who executed any citizen who transgressed his laws, DRACOs similarly executes infected cells thus stopping the infection’s spread.

To date, DRACOs has proved effective in laboratory human and animal cell tests against 18 viruses including Rhinovirus (the common cold), Dengue virus and H1N1 Influenza (swine flu), garnering much attention from both media and academics. So why turn to crowdfunding — a method of fundraising typically reserved for grassroots projects like indie films and backyard inventions?

Rider claims his research — which he has previously developed at MIT and Draper — has entered the “Valley of Death.” While government sponsors  provided initial capital to test DRACO against several proof-of-concept viruses, “before companies invest large amounts of money to carry DRACO through larger animal trials and hopefully into human trials, they want to see data demonstrating that DRACOs have been tested and optimized in cells against families of important clinical viruses,” Rider said. “We hope that this online campaign will raise enough funding to allow us to generate that data and carry DRACOs to the next stage of development.”

Rider hopes the funds will allow DRACOs to operate as a startup company in UMass Lowell’s M2D2 incubator space with research focusing on testing the method against additional clinically relevant viruses, identifying a window of opportunity against infections and eventually developing a pill form of administration (currently DRACO is administered through injection and inhalation). He hopes human trials of DRACOs will begin within the decade.

Although, the campaign’s listed target is $100,000, Rider estimates operating costs at $500,000 per year. His ultimate goal of $2 million would fund his work for four years. As of publication, he has fundraised nearly $9,000 with almost two months left in the campaign. The SENS Research Foundation, a non profit organization supporting regenerative medicine, will process all funds raised.

This article was edited on 16 October 2015. It originally stated Rider hoped to raise $100,000. Although the figure is the Indiegogo campaign’s goal, he ultimately hopes to receive $2 million in donations. 

Paula Sokolska

Paula Sokolska

    Paula is a freelance science writer and strategic communications associate at Health Leads. Formerly a managing editor at MedTech Boston, she has a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University and has worked with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Boston Globe, Social Documentary Network, BU Today and several nonprofit organizations. She can be reached at paula.sokolska@gmail.com.

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