​SCI Ventures: A New Era of Spinal Cord Injury Scientific Innovation 


​SCI Ventures: A New Era of Spinal Cord Injury Scientific Innovation 

Life’s defining moments are often strung together on invisible thread, the path between them illuminated only after the world shifts.  

A family facing a child’s devastating injury hatches an ambitious plan to pursue a cure for paralysis from a living room in New Jersey. A celebrated actor embarks on a quest to transform spinal cord injury research. Lives intersect. Missions merge.  

A movement quietly grows.  

Mothers and veterans and grandchildren join the effort, entering marathons and hosting fundraisers and fighting to give loved ones the hope they deserve. Year after year, they raise the money to support the labs, to sustain the science, to defy the skeptics until, one by one, the breakthroughs deemed impossible arrive.  

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to recognize these milestones in real time, glimpsing the spark before it ignites. 

SCI Ventures Logo

Today, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is thrilled to announce the launch of SCI Ventures, the world’s first philanthropic venture fund dedicated to catalyzing the funding and commercialization of innovative treatments for spinal cord injury (SCI). 

This groundbreaking global initiative — kicking off with $27 million and an anticipated $40 million by year’s end — is a direct response to the momentum currently transforming the field of spinal cord injury research.  

After decades of incremental gains, long awaited therapies are finally within reach. The notion that paralysis is treatable — that blood pressure and cardiovascular function might be regulated by epidural stimulation, that new pathways can bridge scar tissue — is no longer simply a dream of determined families.  

But moving these life-changing treatments beyond the lab demands a new kind of collaboration. 

SCI Ventures was co-founded in a unique partnership between the Reeve Foundation and leading spinal cord injury organizations including Wings for Life, the International Spinal Research Trust (“Spinal Research”), the Promobilia Foundation and Shepherd Center. Its mission is to bridge the gap from bench to bedside, supercharging innovative lab breakthroughs, boosting early-stage companies, and building financial incentives to bring treatments to market.  

Modeled on the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the JDRF T1D Fund for Type 1 diabetes, SCI Ventures grew out of the Reeve Foundation’s pioneering investments in ONWARD Medical and AXONIS Therapeutics. The fund will build on the success of these investments, targeting therapies that restore function alongside emerging technologies with the potential to fully repair the spinal cord. 

Though Reeve and the co-founding organizations will provide knowledge gathered across decades of experience with spinal cord injury, SCI Ventures is an independently managed fund. Founding Managing Director Adrien Cohen, a tech entrepreneur and investor who co-founded Tractable and Lazada — two ‘unicorn’ startups whose worth climbed to $1 billion — will direct investments in consultation with neuroscientists from around the world. All profits from investment gains will be channeled back into the fund, accelerating the pace of discovery to meet the potential of this moment. 

For so many of us, the launch of SCI Ventures is an extraordinary milestone that’s decades in the making.   

When 17-year-old Henry Stifel sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident in 1982, there was nowhere for his parents to turn for help, no organization with its gaze trained on a cure. So, Hank and Charlotte Stifel decided to build their own.  

Henry Stifel and his father, Hank

The Stifel Paralysis Research Foundation set up shop at a bridge table in a spare bedroom later that year. Hank, Charlotte, and friends dedicated to helping Henry and all those impacted by spinal cord injury immersed themselves in academic journals and began scouring the world for researchers able — and willing — to study spinal cord injury. The plan was simple. Fund new labs. Recruit promising scientists. Prove the naysayers wrong.  

And they did.  

By the time Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a horseback riding accident in 1995, the Stifels’ pursuit of progress had laid a foundation for transformative change; Reeve’s embrace of the mission and unyielding quest to find a cure for paralysis would provide the spark that launched a new era in research. 

The newly named Christopher Reeve Foundation rocketed into the public consciousness with Chris at its center. He increased the Foundation’s reach as he traveled the country spotlighting innovative labs, pushing for increased federal funding, and challenging Congress to support stem cell research. With his voice rising above the whoosh of his ventilator — and the unmistakable smile curling his lips — Reeve captured the public’s imagination, his vision for spinal cord injury research redefining what was deemed possible.  

Over four decades, the Reeve Foundation seeded the field with nearly $145 million. Our investments critically boosted the work of early pioneers, including UCLA scientist Reggie Edgerton whose lab demonstrated that damaged spinal cords could adapt and be retrained with epidural stimulation. As the scope of research expanded, Reeve fueled efforts to restore long sought functional gains, including hand dexterity, bladder function and blood pressure regulation; helped launch The Big Idea, the first comprehensive clinical trial studying epidural stimulation in patients with paralysis; and advanced an understanding of spinal cord biology that underpins the breakthroughs of recent years.  

And we’re not finished yet. Today, 20 years since Christopher’s passing, the launch of SCI Ventures represents a critical next step in his and the Reeve family’s determination to identify cures for this injury and address the subsequent medical challenges that severely impact quality of life for those living with paralysis.  

The progress in spinal cord injury research — the very success that inspired SCI Ventures — stems from the determination of all the families since the Stifels and the Reeves who refused to give up hope. But until transformational treatments are in hand, there is still much to be done. 

As SCI Ventures bridges the critical gap between bench and bedside, the Reeve Foundation will continue the work that brought us to this moment. In the coming year, we will tap the expertise of our Spinal Cord Injury Advisory Board, comprised of leading scientists from across the country, to help identify results-driven research that will yield the greatest impact for community members. We will seek out innovative new scientists and fund labs gaining speed. This summer, we will cohost the second Reeve Foundation Symposium, linking scientists and academics with industry peers and investors — sparking new conversations and watching for flickers of light.

Like the Stifel and Reeve families — like so many of you — we will imagine a brighter future and work tirelessly until it arrives. 

To learn more about SCI Ventures, visit SCIVentures.com and follow SCI Ventures on LinkedIn ​​here

Maggie Goldberg

President and CEO, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation