Can Financial Engineering Cure Cancer?

Fernandez, J-M, D. Fagnan, A. W. Lo &  R. M. Stein. 2013.  American Economic Review. 103. 3.


In this paper, we describe a new approach to financing biomedical innovation that we first proposed in Fernandez, Stein, and Lo (2012) and extend in several ways here: using portfolio theory and securitization to reduce the risk of translational medicine. By combining a large number of drug-development projects within a single portfolio, a “megafund,” it becomes possible to reduce the investment risk to such an extent that issuing bonds backed by these proj- ects becomes feasible. Debt financing is a key innovation because the cost of each drug-development project can be several hundred million dollars; hence, a sufficiently diversified portfolio may require tens of billions of dollars of investment capital, and debt markets have much greater capacity than either private or public equity markets. If these bonds are structured to have different priorities, the most senior class or “tranche” may be rated by credit-rating agencies, opening up a much larger pool of institutional investors who can purchase such instruments, e.g., pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowments, and foundations. Our results also suggest that even a small (in expected value) third-party guarantee can materially improve the economics of an RBO transaction.

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