Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gates Foundation to support novel health research

Whatever you think of Bill Gates and Microsoft, he certainly puts a lot of effort into good causes through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Their latest initiative is an attempt to get out from under the constraints of the usual funding process for medical research, something university researchers across all the disciplines divides (not just in medicine and pharmaceuticals) will universally welcome.

"Creative, unorthodox thinking is essential to overcoming the most persistent challenges in global health. Two hundred years ago, the first vaccines were developed because revolutionary thinkers dared to try an entirely new approach to preventing disease. The power of innovation is also at work in countless other fields, from space travel to the Internet.

In spite of the important role that innovation plays in advancing scientific ideas, the global health research community has tended to play it safe, driven mostly by consensus, with funders avoiding high-risk proposals that test altogether novel concepts. This has resulted in incremental progress that, while valuable, is unlikely to deliver major leaps forward.

In response to the need to cultivate imaginative ideas in health research, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announces a new grants initiative, Grand Challenges Explorations. The initiative aims to encourage scientists worldwide to explore innovative ideas that could lead to breakthroughs in some of the greatest health challenges facing poor countries. Grand Challenges Explorations will foster early stage innovation in global health research and will expand the pipeline of ideas that potentially could merit further evaluation.

Expanding the Grand Challenges in Global Health

Grand Challenges Explorations is an expansion of the foundation’s commitment to the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which was launched in 2003 to accelerate the discovery of new technologies to improve global health. To date, the foundation has provided $450 million to support more than 40 projects on topics such as making childhood vaccines easier to use in poor countries and creating new ways to control insects that spread disease.

“The scientific community has shown tremendous interest in the Grand Challenges initiative, and the projects funded so far are beginning to show important progress,” said Dr. Harold Varmus, president and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and chair of the scientific board that oversees the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. “The new Explorations initiative will help to further increase innovation in global health research.”"

They are, in addition, planning to fast-track the research grant applications and approvals process. The test will be to see how it all works in practice but I wish them and the experts whose work they facilitate every success. Even the Wall Street Journal approves.

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