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Nonprofits seeking to advance medical research have long operated from a standard playbook, soliciting grant proposals from academic scientists and then funding the most promising ones.

But, increasingly, medical philanthropies are going the way of venture capitalist firms by making equity investments in therapeutics companies. The latest example? The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which announced Tuesday that it wants to raise a $50 million fund to start investing in companies working on treatments for spinal-cord injuries.

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