Issue Date: October 11, 2007
Gates Charity Adds Fast-Track Grants
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committing $100 million over five years to add a fast-track grant arm to its global health philanthropy efforts. Called Grand Challenges Explorations, the initiative is intended to encourage scientists to pursue unorthodox ideas that could lead to new vaccines, diagnostics, and drugs for people in poor countries.
The program expands the foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which was launched in 2003 to take on 14 specific global health problems, including improving the delivery and stability of vaccines and stopping insects that transmit diseases.
But the new initiative will differ from the larger program by offering scientists small sums of cash???awards will be up to $100,000???to validate what the foundation calls "creative, unorthodox" ideas. Funding proposal applications will be short and, once submitted, on a fast-track for review.
The initiative ties into a trend among nonprofits of finding creative ways to finance cutting-edge research in disease areas that big pharma has traditionally ignored (C&EN, May 7, page 19). The nonprofit support is particularly useful to scientists whose research is in the difficult-to-fund idea stage.
"There's a need to shake up the way things are done and have programs that really reach early," says Katie Hood, interim CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF).
In January, MJFF launched its own fast-track grant program, the Rapid Response Innovations Awards, designed to provide seed funding for early-phase projects focused on Parkinson's disease. The program's goal, Hood says, is to support ideas before researchers drop them "because it takes too long to fill out an application."
Speaking last week at a meeting of health researchers in Cape Town, South Africa, Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's global health program, acknowledged that not all of the ideas funded by the initiative will bear fruit. "But those that do could revolutionize the field of global health," he said.
Grants will be awarded several times a year on a rolling basis, and each round of funding will focus on a handful of topics or themes. The foundation will begin soliciting proposals in the first half of 2008; the first grants are expected to be awarded later that year.
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