Sometimes what’s old is new again. Sixteen years ago, well before impact investing became popular, mutual fund company American Century Investments began diverting a large portion of its profits to the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which holds more than 40% of the company’s stock. Since then, American Century has distributed $1.2 billion to the institute to help fund biomedical research for gene-based diseases including some cancers.
“Most people haven’t heard of Stowers Institute because it doesn’t need to market itself or do fundraising,” says American Century President and CEO Jonathan Thomas. But that is about to change.
As interest in impact investing from individual investors and government and corporate pension plans has grown, American Century is starting to tell its unusual impact investing story “louder and louder,” says Thomas. “When you invest with American Century, you can have a greater social impact in addition to competitive investment performance.”
“It feels like the marketplace has come to us,” added a firm spokesperson.
The social impact model of American Century is “hard-wired” [and] the impact is direct,” says Dr. David Chao, president and CEO of Stowers Institute for Medical Research. He explains that because of the stable financing from American Century, the institute doesn’t have to spend time, money and resources to fundraise, as other medical institute have to do. American Century funds 90% of the institute’s budget; grants fund the rest. In addition, the institute “can pursue projects that a little more unconventional and hard to fund through grants,” says Chao.
The institute is currently running 20 different independent research programs with its staff of 550, including 370 scientists. Two of the therapies in development are currently in clinical trials. One targets a specific genetic vulnerability frequently found in melanoma, pancreatic cancer and certain colon and lung cancers. Another injects a strain of bacteria into solid tumors to consume the tumor from inside with minimal impact on healthy tissue.
Both therapies are being conducted by BioMed Valley Discoveries, a for-profit unit company owned by BioMed Valley Corp., which is an affiliate of the Stowers Institute. If any of the therapies BioMed Valley Discoveries develops succeed in trials and then the marketplace, all those profits will be recycled back to the institute to fund more research.
“The real goal of the institute and Discoveries is to impact human health,” says Chao.
This unusual funding structure is the brainchild of Jim Stowers, the founder of American Century Investments, and his wife Virginia, who were both cancer survivors. “Those experiences led them to give something back to the people who helped them become successful,” says American Century spokesman Chris Doyle. Jim Stowers died in 2014 at age 90.
The couple’s bouts with cancer also inspired American Century, which has about $150 billion under management, to ban tobacco company stocks from its target date funds.
American Century is not the only financial firm using investor funds for cancer research. UBS announced Wednesday that it had raised $471 million for the closing of its Oncology Impact Fund dedicated to developing early stage cancer treatments.
— Check out IRS OKs Program-Related Investments for Foundations on ThinkAdvisor.