Traditional financing sources such as private and public equity may not be ideal for investment projects with low probabilities of success, long time horizons, and large capital requirements. Nevertheless, such projects, if not too highly correlated, may yield attractive risk-adjusted returns when combined into a single portfolio. Such "megafund" portfolios may be too large to finance through private or public equity alone. But with sufficient diversification and risk analytics, debt financing via securitization may be feasible. Credit enhancements (i.e., derivatives and government guarantees) can also improve megafund economics. We present an analytical framework and illustrative empirical examples involving cancer research. Open-source software available in the link above.
Commercializing Biomedical Research through Securitization Techniques
Fernandez, Jose-Maria, Roger M. Stein, and Andrew W. Lo (2012), Commercializing Biomedical Research through Securitization Techniques, Nature Biotechnology 30 (10), 964–975.
Biomedical innovation has become riskier, more expensive and more difficult to finance with traditional sources such as private and public equity. Here we propose a financial structure in which a large number of biomedical programs at various stages of development are funded by a single entity to substantially reduce the portfolio's risk. The portfolio entity can finance its activities by issuing debt, a critical advantage because a much large pool of capital is available for investment in debt versus equity. By employing financial engineering techniques such as securitization, it can raise even greater amounts of more-patient capital. In a simulation using historical data for new molecular entities in oncology from 1990 to 2011, we find that megafunds of $5-15 billion may yield average investment returns of 8.9-11.4% for equity holders and 5-8% for 'research-backed obligation' holders, which are lower than typical venture-capital hurdle rates by attractive to pension funds, insurance companies and other large institutional investors. Open-source software available for download in link above.
Estimating the NIH Efficient Frontier
Bisias, Dimitrios, Andrew W. Lo, and James F. Watkins (2012), Estimating the NIH Efficient Frontier, PLoS ONE 7 (5), e34569.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is among the world’s largest investors in biomedical research, with a mandate to: “…lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.” Its funding decisions have been criticized as insufficiently focused on disease burden. We hypothesize that modern portfolio theory can create a closer link between basic research and outcome, and offer insight into basic-science related improvements in public health. We propose portfolio theory as a systematic framework for making biomedical funding allocation decisions–one that is directly tied to the risk/reward trade-off of burden-of-disease outcomes.