Gates Research Institute to Focus on Accelerating Translational Research
Since its inception in 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has spent billions of dollars on global health research, largely by funding academic laboratories and product development partnerships (PDPs). Going forward it will take the unusual step of doing some of the research itself.
A press release posted on BMGF’s website on April 25 says they plan to establish a non-profit medical research institute aimed at improving the pace of translational research—that is, the process of turning scientific discoveries into actual products. The release says the institute will focus on “capitalizing on research breakthroughs and identifying viable candidates for drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and medical devices.” BMGF anticipates that the institute will be co-located in Seattle and Boston and that Penny Heaton, who heads up BMGF’s Vaccine Development and Surveillance Program, will be taking a senior leadership role in the new institute, according to the press release.
The research institute will receive US$100 million annually from BMGF to study diarrheal diseases, malaria, and tuberculosis (TB). Ambitious projects are underway to eradicate these diseases, but there is still no vaccine to prevent malaria, diarrheal diseases remain a leading killer of young children in developing countries, and better vaccines and drugs are needed in the TB fight, as are more efficient ways of confirming its diagnosis.
Exactly why BMGF decided to switch gears and open its own research institute is unclear. Bryan Callahan, a spokesman for BMGF, told IAVI Report that they preferred not to comment until October, when the concept and design of the institute should be complete.
Another open question is how the new research institute will impact PDPs that are working on these same diseases and currently receiving financial support from BMGF. Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, says not enough is known now to determine what kind of impact the new research institute will have.
In a Q&A, BMGF said it is still evaluating how the institute will work with its product development partners, but that it is anticipated that the new institute will affect relationships with a “small subset of partners in specific disease research areas.”
Lawrence Corey, president and director emeritus of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and a principal investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, says he had little knowledge about the concept or genesis of the institute. “But new research into these problems are always welcome and helpful.”
Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the largest public funder of basic research of infectious diseases, agreed. “NIAID puts a substantial effort into TB, malaria, and diarrheal diseases, and we will likely develop collaborative and synergistic relationships with them,” he says. “I’m looking forward to seeing how this thing evolves.” —Mary Rushton