Bringing Family Wealth to Bear Against a Relentless Illness

She started researching the disease, as many people would. But she had an advantage to accelerate her efforts: She and her siblings are part of a family office, a private organization that manages the assets of a single extended family.

Ms. Anane’s mother gave the go-ahead for the office to donate to the scientists and clinical trials her daughter had identified. And the office backed Ms. Anane as she traveled to conferences and met carriers of the disease and their families.

Family offices typically serve as investment vehicles, financial managers and charitable advisers. Sometimes, they protect profligate offspring from their worst habits; other times, they are the locus of squabbling among heirs. Financial decisions are guided by a mix of paid staff members and relatives.

Yet when family offices get it right in the field of medical research, they can have a big impact.

“It’s not just the money — it’s the celebrity that they can leverage to get other people to commit money,” said Bill Woodson, who runs the family office group in North America for Citibank’s private bank. “It takes real discipline, outreach and a willingness to be public.”

It also takes someone in the family to make sure all members are on board with what the office is doing.

David Dolby, son of Ray Dolby, the sound engineer and founder of Dolby Laboratories, said that when their family first learned their father had Alzheimer’s disease, the family made charitable donations to well-known groups supporting research and patients’ families.

After his father’s death in 2013, Mr. Dolby said, the family office became more disciplined. In addition to its charitable contributions, it is financing basic research on Alzheimer’s and investing in companies working on treatments that are on track for regulatory approval. Its

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