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Only Watch continues to drive research

Only Watch continues to drive research

Thursday, 09 November 2017
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Fabrice Eschmann
Freelance journalist

“Don't believe all the quotes you read online!”

“In life as in watchmaking, it takes many encounters to make a story.”

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5 min read

It’s rare for a fundraising event to be better known than the organisation behind it, but that’s the case with Only Watch, the Monaco Association against Muscular Dystrophies’ much-envied charity auction which has already raised close to €27 million, set up two companies, and filed several patents.

He likens himself to a conductor, immediately adding that “I bring the music together, but I don’t actually play an instrument myself”. And it’s true that Luc Pettavino, the capable creator and organiser of the much-envied Only Watch charity auction, isn’t a watchmaker. His strength is to have enlisted the talent of others to serve a single cause, without asking the impossible: “They do what they do best, quietly and efficiently”. The talents in question are horological, of course, but also in the field of medical research, as Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies (Monaco Association against Muscular Dystrophies, AMM) – before being a source of funding through Only Watch – brings together researchers from multiple horizons, all working in the same direction. And when the situation calls for it, it also sets up companies to protect its discoveries and continue to progress.

Be part of the solution

From its beginnings in 2005 as a biennial event, Only Watch has continued to grow, from the thirty lots that realised €1.9 million in the maiden sale to the 44 watches that changed hands in 2015 for €10.33 million. Even before the first item hits the block, this year’s instalment has already set a new record with its 50 timepieces, all generously donated to AMM to benefit its fundraising efforts: because collectors and bidders tend to forget that while Only Watch is certainly a fabulous coming-together of brands more accustomed to the harsh reality of competition, it is first and foremost a means of raising money to fight neuromuscular diseases, and specifically Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). In the space of ten years, AMM has succeeded in raising almost €27 million to benefit research.

I asked myself what I could do to become part of the solution?
Luc Pettavino

Behind this success is one man’s determination not to resign himself to his child’s illness. Managing director of the Monaco Yacht Show for two decades, when Luc Pettavino’s son was diagnosed in 2000, his priorities changed. “I asked myself what I could do to become part of the solution,” he says, as though it were that simple. He set up AMM, then started fundraising. Using the yacht show as a platform, he invited its wealthy visitors to bid for artworks, luxury products and fine wines. The idea of watches came later, in 2004, as Luc recalls: “Blancpain was sponsoring the Monaco Yacht Show, and it occurred to me that watches, which are compact objects, had their own, very buoyant market with its collectors, experts and rare pieces. So I went to see Nicolas Hayek, who backed me from day one”.

Making things happen

Pragmatism and efficiency are the only ways to tackle DMD, hence this “roll-up-your-sleeves” attitude has been Luc’s strength. His first contacts with the medical world, a totally unknown environment for him, revealed that researchers’ needs weren’t quite what he had expected. “Even before the question of funding arose, scientists needed somewhere they could talk between themselves about advances in pre-clinical investigations and the solutions to put in place. Which is how the Monaco Round Tables and the International Collaborative Effort for DMD came about”.

This strategy has made it possible to establish and consolidate relations between the different international research centres that are investigating Duchenne muscular dystrophy. AMM’s efforts – and hopes – are now focused on gene therapy. “DMD, which affects around one out of 3,500 boys, is a very severe form of degenerative neuromuscular disease,” explains Luis Garcia, research director for the French national scientific research centre (CNRS) laboratory at Versailles University. “It’s caused by a gene mutation that prevents the body from producing dystophin, an essential muscle protein. Scientists are exploring several areas. Thanks to support from AMM, we are working on what’s known as an antisense molecule, a kind of artificial DNA that can repair RNA”.

Human trials next

This new treatment, which was developed by Prof. Christian Leumann at Berne University in Switzerland, is proving to be highly promising. However, researchers need sufficient material before they can start clinical trials. In 2012, AMM set up Synthena, the only entity capable of producing a molecule that is not yet commercially available. Another start-up, SQY Therapeutics is a spin-off from Versailles University that focuses on trial safety. Thanks to Only Watch, AMM employs some fifteen scientific staff and has filed several patents. “We’re not in this to make money. Our aim is to take clinical trials as far as possible,” says Luc Pettavino. “I don’t want the pharmaceutical giants buying these patents to then stash them away in a drawer. I want research to stay in the hands of the people who are most concerned”. Results are encouraging and human trials will be able to commence soon. “We’re on a two-year timescale,” ventures Luis Garcia, “although the objective isn’t to launch for the sake of launching. The objective is to launch a treatment that works”.

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