Gates Pledges $200 Million for Global Health Research at Davos

January 26, 2003

The Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (TB Alliance) applauds yesterday’s announcement from Gates Foundation to establish the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative. The $200 million pledge will be a significant instrument towards improving today’s unbalanced 10/90 research equation. Only 10 percent of the medical research is devoted to the diseases that cause 90 percent of the health burden in the world, according to the Global Forum on Health Research, a stakeholder of the TB Alliance.

Dr. Maria Freire, CEO of the TB Alliance, attended the meeting at the World Economic Forum where Bill Gates announced this initiative and has repeatedly underscored the need for additional mechanisms like the new Gates funding. Dr. Freire said, “This new initiative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is particularly welcome. It will allow us to leverage interdisciplinary scientific expertise and creative thinking for the benefit of the vast majority of the world.”

The new initiative aims to address scientific challenges that would help overcome diseases in the developing world. One such task might be to identify what causes latent tuberculosis from unpredictably reactivating into the full-blown contagious form. Today one third of the world is infected with TB; an overwhelming majority of them carry latent TB. Discovering the “Achilles heel” of latent TB would expedite the search for a new drug that would significantly shorten TB treatment – a key objective of the Alliance’s agenda.

The main reason that TB treatment takes six to nine months today is because the drugs must be taken long enough to ensure that no bacteria remain. A drug that targets latency is critical to improved therapy, reducing the spread of disease, and ultimately reversing the TB epidemic. Finding better targets for latent tuberculosis is the subject of a scientific workshop sponsored by the TB Alliance on Thursday, January 30 and will remain a key objective of the Alliance’s R&D strategy.

An expert in technology transfer, Dr. Freire has noted that “we are in an exciting time in biomedical research where identifying new molecular targets for attack is possible so that new compounds can be designed and formulated.” In an editorial in the January Reporter of the American Association of Medical Colleges, Dr. Freire called for further funding to “help develop therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines for the diseases of the developing world.”

The Grand Challenges Fund, through its partnership with the Foundation for the U.S. National Institutes of Health, will go along way to re-energizing scientific and medical interest in diseases like tuberculosis that affect the majority of the developing world.