Sunday, July 3, 2005
The William and Melinda Gates Foundation will fund 43 innovative and radical health research projects totaling $437 million. The New York Times reports that the chosen projects were winners of a competition to find new ways to attack the greatest health challenges facing people in poor countries. Each project will receive five year grants of up to $20 million each. Dr. Richard Klausner, director of the Gates Foundation's global health program, says that each project is "very visionary and very, very high risk... But if any of them are successful, it will be well worth the investment." To focus the projects direction, the Gates foundation proposed fourteen goals which include vaccines that need no refrigeration and can be given without needles, vaccines that create immunity with one dose, new ways to kill or cripple mosquitoes, more nutritious staple crops, blood tests that can be done in villages without electricity, and better animal models for human diseases. Some of the teams will be working on the same goal and competing against each other by using different methods and taking different paths. The article notes the example of six teams working on ways to deliver vaccines through nasal sprays, inhalers, skin patches, or drinks. Two teams are working on creating vaccines that do not need to be kept chilled. Currently, keeping vaccines chilled in Africa is a major obstacle to vaccinating children in rural Africa.
Another project is headed by Dr. David Baltimore, a Nobel Prize winner and president of the California Institute of Technology. His grant is to create stem cells that could be safely injected into a person. The stem cells, obtaining the genetic instructions for attacking diseases, would then populate the immune system. This process would make vaccines obsolete. Like the other projects, this is a focused, large, and expensive gamble that normally would not receive government funding or funding of such a large amount.
The teams are composed of researchers from universities, biotech companies, and government agencies such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As opposed to typical government grants, each project will be closely supervised and can be cut off if goals are not met. The researchers may patent anything they invent, but they must guarantee that it will be made available to poor countries at low cost or for free. Thanks to Lindley Bain for her help with this post. [tm]