By Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D.
An estimated 38 million individuals are currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. There exist two individuals who have recently been cured of AIDS. Using biotechnology originating from The Rockefeller University, Research Foundation to Cure AIDS (RFTCA) intends to take the underlying science and develop a broadly-applicable cure for all those in need. But how does one go from an idea to a charitable worldwide cure? More than twenty volunteers from Morrison & Foerster have been hard at work helping us find our path.
The international law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP (MoFo) has been representing RFTCA on a pro bono basis since before inception. MoFo incorporated RFTCA as a legal entity, secured the organization’s IRS tax exempt 501(c)3 status, put in place a license agreement that provides RFTCA with an exclusive license to biotechnology that holds promise to cure AIDS and pursued and secured U.S. and European patents for prospective nanomedicines to cure AIDS.
Four current and former partners of MoFo serve on RFTCA’s board of directors:
Chet Kerr initiated the firm’s relationship with RFTCA where he currently serves as treasurer. Thanks to Chet’s meticulous work ethic, RFTCA’s housekeeping and records are in such order that we can, for instance, account for every dollar ever received and/or spent. As an organization that values and respects each donated dollar, this is of utmost importance to lay the foundation for being able to account to our donors and to ourselves.
Karen Hagberg is RFTCA’s board chair where she has created a collaborative environment that brings the diverse leaders who serve on our board together to focus on our mission and goals. Under Karen’s leadership, RFTCA established research alliances with Columbia University Medical Center, New York Stem Cell Foundation and Lehigh University in connection with our grant application to NIH in response to their first call seeking proposals to cure HIV infection.
Jim Hough is an RFTCA board member who, most recently, organized a firm-wide fundraiser at MoFo on behalf of RFTCA for LGBT Pride month this June. On June 1, an email went out to partners, associates, team and alumni of MoFo providing information about RFTCA, outlining some of the many ways some 20+ dedicated lawyers and team from throughout MoFo have volunteered their support and soliciting financial support. Donations have been coming in throughout the month. The MoFo Foundation also pledged $15,000 in matching grant support.
Dario de Martino is RFTCA’s newest board member from MoFo, joining in April 2021. Dario had already been supporting RFTCA as a partner at the firm, where he and his team have provided us with input and agreements for our relationships with our partners and where he had an instrumental role in advising us about our crowdfunding platform at https://freefromaids.org/. In addition, Dario is also an active leader in the MoFo’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, through which RFTCA has had the pleasure to get to know many allies.
By taking on RFTCA as a pro bono client of the firm, MoFo laid RFTCA’s legal foundation and made it possible for interested individuals at the firm to join our effort, from partners to paralegals who have reached out to say how important this cause is to them personally. Chet talked about how it all started in a Zoom meeting that was organized as part of MoFo’s firm-wide fundraiser for RFTCA this June. He and I first got to know each other from the board of a local theatre called P.S. 122 where I was a biotech inventor and he was a lawyer. When I heard of how the first patient was cured of AIDS and realized the potential of technology I had invented to help develop a global cure based on this early success, I reached out to Chet to see if he would be open to hearing more and helping establish a charitable effort to develop a cure on a not-for-profit basis. I’m so grateful that Chet took this back to MoFo and fondly remember coming in to make a presentation to Chet and several of his colleagues, which included Karen at that very first meeting too, and for every individual who has considered this cause and decided to take it on since then too.
Rockefeller University alumnus and biotech inventor Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D., is the president of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS and LGBTQ editor at WestView News. To support RFTCA, go to https://rftca.org/.