Food Allergy Fund Rewrites the Playbook
“…those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” —John F. Kennedy
32 Million people in the US have food allergies.
If you don’t have food allergies, chances are someone you know does.
Every 3 minutes a food allergy sends someone to the ER.
There is no cure. Yet. And it costs money to find answers. Vast amounts of money.
Enter Ilana Golant.
Ilana founded The Food Allergy Fund in 2018. She has worked tirelessly since the fund’s launch to elevate the national conversation on food allergies and fund groundbreaking basic research for a cure.
A Mother’s Love Ignites a Fire
What inspired this lawyer by training to ‘move mountains’ to find a cure for food allergies -- all while juggling a C-suite role in media (her day job) and parenting a toddler (her 24:7 job), short of going to med school herself? Allergy Force spoke with Ilana to find out.
“In a nutshell, my daughter,” she explains. “She had an anaphylactic reaction at 13 months and within six months tacked on many additional food allergies.”
The Golant family found that the diagnosis has affected every aspect of their daily life – from sending their daughter to school, to playing soccer, to celebrating birthdays, to going on vacation, to eating out.
“It’s my responsibility to create the conditions that allow my daughter to enjoy life. I just want her to be a happy kid.” reflects Ilana, sharing some of her pain and frustration.
Food Allergy Fund’s Quest for a Cure
Ilana became increasingly frustrated when she couldn’t get answers. “If we continue to chip away at solutions to the food allergy epidemic, clinical trial after trial, food by food, it will take 200+ years of trials to find a cure.” Speaking with her, you also understand a mother’s fierce hope and determination to find a faster path to answers.
As her 2017 New Year’s Resolution for 2018, Ilana resolved to find food allergy solutions by shifting the research paradigm.
From 0 to 100 in Under 12
In just 12 months, through vision and persistence, The Food Allergy Fund:
Formed a brain trust of the best and brightest -- a Scientific Advisory Board of 12 renowned scientists and doctors and reviewed 20+ research promising proposals.
Assembled a coast-to-coast volunteer network to support awareness building, fundraising and event planning.
Executed 3 highly successful social media campaigns across 14 major cities nationwide to raise broad-based awareness.
Awarded the fund’s first grant -- $100K to a multi-disciplinary team of 10 researchers across 6 top institutions.
Convened a sold-out thought leadership summit that brought renowned doctors, scientists, patients, investors, media, celebrity chefs and parents together in one room for a powerful content share that amplified the food allergy dialog.
Launched a series of 2 to 4-minute interviews with thought leaders -- ‘Bites of Wisdom’– to continue the conversation started at the 2019 Summit.
Planned a second Summit for Fall 2019 in our nation’s epicenter of activism, DC.
"It always seems impossible until it's done."
So how did the Food Allergy Fund go from ideation to actually funding research in under 12 months?
Ilana gave herself six months to research and meet with other organizations and set up an advisory board.
She looked to other not-for-profit disease research foundations for proven models for funding research. Why re-invent the wheel? Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Stand Up to Cancer, The Crohns & Colitis Foundation -- all had common elements she could apply to the Food Allergy Fund.
Her second order of business was to seat a Scientific Advisory Board. Ilana gave deep thought to the disciplines needed at the table, and built a wish list of ‘who’s who’in the scientific, medical and academic communities. Her wish list included renowned gastroenterologists, immunologists, microbiologists, bio-engineers, biochemists, psychologists, pathologists.
“This was the easiest part of the whole undertaking,” she recalls. “I got to ‘yes’ quickly because there is such a critical need for more funding for basic research.” Scientists generally consider multi-disciplinary approaches the shortest path to solutions, so the Food Allergy Fund’s philosophical point of departure resonated. Once the Scientific Advisory Board was seated, they turned on a dime to review 20+ grant proposals over the 2018 year-end holidays, including proposals from the UK, Italy and Germany.
Elevating and shaping a national dialog surrounding food allergies was next on the Food Allergy Fund’s agenda. Ilana’s years of experience with Fortune 100 clients, developing thought leadership platforms and shaping a national conversation around the future and innovation (e.g., think driverless cars), pointed the way.
To achieve its goal, the Food Allergy Fund organized the inaugural Food Allergy Summit in NYC in April 2019. Beyond convening an all-star group of speakers, and seating panels ranging from leading scientists and immunologists, to med-tech entrepreneurs, to acclaimed restauranteurs and celebrity chefs, the Fund unveiled the recipient of its first grant -- $100K awarded to a multi-disciplinary team of 10 from six top institutions in the US and UK. The team is led by Dr. Patrick Brennan, M.D., Ph.D, Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School; Division of Allergy & Immunology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Shifting the Research Paradigm
With experts in immunology, epidemiology, public health, rheumatology, synthetic chemistry and micro-biology – the winning team is studying infants with and without food allergies to determine if certain lipids in their stomachs have a protective effect. This line of inquiry will provide critical data for developing a new therapeutic approach to treating food allergies.
According to Dr. Brennan, “food allergies are a solvable problem. They weren’t a problem 50 years ago. Something has changed. What’s different between the kids who are allergic and kids who are not? That’s what we’re trying to answer….”
Staffed entirely by volunteers, the Food Allergy Fund’s bold agenda continues to unfold at record speed, with ambitious goals reflecting the urgent need to find a cure for food allergies. 100% of public donations flow to research. The Food Allergy Fund awarded its second research grant at the Fall 2019 Summit in DC.
Under Ilana’s direction, the Food Allergy Fund is writing a new chapter in the food allergy playbook versus rereading old ones. This new chapter promises to be a page turner.
Photo Credits: Thank you to Louis Reed on Unsplash for use of the first post image and to the Food Allergy Fund for use of the second post image