09 Apr 2019
Finding a Fix for Food Allergies
Elise and Greg Bates (both MBA 2000) launched End Allergies Together as a very personal mission—with a very public goalRe: Ron Laufer (MBA 2000); Ben Gordon (MBA 2000); Kelly Mulderry (MBA 2000); Andrew Mulderry (MBA 2000); Mike Weinbach (MBA 2000); Wynee Sade (MBA 2000)by Jill RadskenTopics:
photo by Stu Rosner
Food allergies affect 30 million Americans and one in 12 children, sometimes triggering life-threatening reactions. Yet there are no approved FDA treatments or cures.
These sobering facts became alarmingly real to Elise and Greg Bates (both MBA 2000) four years ago when their daughter Campbell went into anaphylactic shock after eating prepared food cooked in a pan they believe was cross-contaminated with peanuts.
“We saw someone go from fine to wheezing, GI distress, and throat closure in just minutes,” says Elise, who used epinephrine to save Campbell’s life. “She came out of it fine, but that is the lens through which I now look at food allergies.”
For Greg, that harrowing experience also recalled a story from decades earlier. He was an undergraduate at Dartmouth when his roommate got a middle-of-the-night call that his brother, Pete, had suffered a fatal reaction to eating a cookie. Twenty-five years after Pete’s death, little progress has been made in terms of understanding the condition or options for treatment. “The same antiquated autoinjector is still the first line of treatment in anaphylactic reaction. Further, we still aren’t able to accurately diagnose the condition without actually giving someone the suspected food and seeing if they react. The anxiety that produces in people with suspected life-threatening food allergies is enormous and requires hours in a hospital. We can do better,” he says.
Four months after their daughter’s episode, the couple cofounded End Allergies Together (EAT)—a research nonprofit that aims to accelerate treatments and cures for food allergies—with Tom and Kim Hall, another couple whose daughter lives with a similar diagnosis.
Their first step was to address a major research funding gap. “The National Institutes of Health allocates only $76 million to food allergies, which affects roughly one in 10 Americans and has no FDA approved treatments,” says Elise. “Epilepsy, which affects one in 105 Americans, receives $163 million and has 20 classes of FDA approved treatments.”
EAT’s founding principles included a commitment to put 90 percent of donations toward research that will accelerate discoveries. “We built an organization we would want to invest in ourselves. We cover overhead so donors aren’t giving money to the nonprofit; they are giving to the world’s best scientists researching cures,” says Greg.
They also created a medical advisory board comprised of experts in their respective fields who are not currently conducting research—and, therefore, not seeking funding. “The decision-making process is very different when you don’t have skin in the game,” observes Greg.
In their HBS sections they found not only a network of support and resources, but also many classmates with their own family’s challenges with food allergies. The group includes Ron Laufer (MBA 2000),who conducted scientific research and advised EAT on health care investing; Ben Gordon (MBA 2000), who organized a fundraiser for EAT; Kelly and Andrew Mulderry (both MBA 2000),who helped network; Michael Weinbach (MBA 2000), who hosted a panel for more than 3,000 employees at JP Morgan; and Wynee Sade (MBA 2000). “It was one after another after another,” says Greg. “I bet 15 to 20 sectionmates have children with this disease.”
Early success in raising capital has allowed EAT to move from supporting existing research to a new model of proactive challenge grants. “We have so many areas of need that we are putting together large challenge grants to go after them individually,” notes Elise. “We need to broaden the net and provide incentives for scientists to work together within food allergy and across disease states to solve specific problems such as diagnostics and reducing the allergic response.”
The couple hopes their advances can offset the reality that allergic reactions seem to magnify with each generation. Greg says increased numbers of people with food allergies as well as the number of allergens causing severe reactions now send someone to the emergency room every two to three minutes in the United States.
“We have a lot at stake, personally, even though we make investments through EAT that don’t have anything to do with helping Campbell,” he adds. “I went into this to find a way to find for my daughter to be safe when she goes to college, but my entire lens has changed. This is a balance of trying to take the ‘life-threatening’ out of this condition while we fund the heavy lifting involved to understand the basic science. I don’t want my daughter to feel the way Elise does when she’s a mom.”
Class of MBA 2000, Section H
Class of MBA 2000, Section B