As the engine of drug development stalls — the result of an uncertain healthcare environment and a poor performing healthcare market — disease-focused charities are stepping up to restart the engine. They have become the new financiers of early-stage drug development.

Groups such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, CHDI Foundation, Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society are now directly investing in or partnering with companies to speed up the development and distribution of new treatments.

For such charities, which until recently were mostly advocates and funders of academic research, the process is a radical step because it now involves partnering with established pharmaceutical companies and start-ups in accelerating drug development. The total amount is small, estimated at no more than $100 million or so annually. But its importance is critical when funding in drug development has almost dried up.