The 2020 edition of the Ales for ALS charitable program was off to a strong start before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered brewery taprooms and tasting rooms across the U.S.
The program was on pace to have the most participants in its seven-year history. Around 125 breweries had already enrolled in the 2020 edition of Ales for ALS, and founders Cheryl Hanses Smith and her husband, Mike Smith, were hopeful of getting 300 breweries to take part in this year’s program.
Those efforts were scuttled by COVID-19, which has left breweries across the country in precarious financial positions and in need of financial assistance.
Last year, Ales for ALS’s 196 participating breweries raised around $540,000. Over the last seven years, the charitable effort has raised more than $3 million, which has helped fund the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), a Massachusetts-based non-profit biotech lab solely focused on finding treatments and cures for ALS, as none currently exist.
In a video interview with Brewbound, Mike Smith said a few brewers have asked the Smiths to delay the shipment of free hops provided by the Smith family and YCH Hops, while others have said they won’t be able to take part this year.
“It’s definitely going to have an impact,” Mike Smith said. “I’d be surprised if we could exceed even 75% of what we did last year.”
The financial impact of COVID-19 on ALS research has been profound, as ALS TDI was forced to furlough some of its scientists, Mike Smith said, and could force the organization to temporarily halt its Precision Medicine Program, leading to the loss of data and slow down potential treatments for the disease.
In November, AT-1501, a drug was discovered and developed in the ALS TDI lab, successfully completed phase one of clinical trials.
Anelixis Therapeutics, a for-profit subsidiary of ALS TDI, brought the drug through trial and was planning to begin phase 2 trials.
“[Anelixis Therapeutics] needed to raise about $35 or $40 million to do the phase two trial,” he said. “We were going to venture capital firms to do that; we had somebody lined up to do it and with the financial uncertainty, they pulled out for right now. So it’s really set the program back.”
“The science definitely hasn’t stopped because of this,” Cheryl Hanses Smith added. “But it has slowed down.”
The Smiths and their daughter, Meghann Quinn, who co-owns Yakima, Washington-based Bale Breaker Brewery, discussed their family’s very personal history with ALS, the start of the charity and the impact of COVID-19 on the program with Brewbound editor Justin Kendall.
Watch the video above, and look for additional video conversations in the coming days and weeks on Brewbound.com.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to clarify comments made by Mike Smith.