Monday, March 31, 2008

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Backs $100 Million Global Health Initiative

Dr. Tadataka Yamada, M.D., president of the Global Health Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle, has issued a challenge for researchers across the globe to find bold new ways to remedy global health issues. Dr. Yamada writes - “I must confess to having learned the hard way that embracing new thinking, as difficult as it may be, is crucial for the advancement of science and medicine. He provides an example: When two scientists from Australia came along and argued that it was actually a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori that produced ulcers, [rather than gastric acid] those of us in the "Acid Mafia" rejected their claims out of hand. The scientists had to actually drink the bacteria then treat themselves with antibiotics in order to prove the results of their research; they later earned the 2005 Nobel Prize.

Dr. Yamada, with financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is launching the “Grand Challenges in Global Health” Web site on March 31.

The impetus follows another failure to produce a vaccine against HIV. Dr. Yamada recognizes that there is no way to progress unless new, even “bold and seemingly wacky” approaches to global health are proposed. The huge undertaking carries known financial risk, but it seems our inability to find global health solutions is far more risky.

The initial four areas of focus will include preventing infectious disease, new drugs to treat resistant infection, HIV treatment and cure, and understanding latent tuberculosis. Dr. Yamada is looking for innovative ideas from all disciplines, not just “anointed experts”. He calls traditional peer review, “peerless", and suggests great minds are ignored because of the "process" that can inhibit new ideas and approaches to health care.

One hundred million dollars will fund new and innovative research projects over a period of five years. The only criterion for inclusion is creative thinking - $100,000 grants will provide support for each idea. A two-page application is required, making the submission process fairly easy. The decision for grants will be determined within ninety days, following review by a team of creative advisors and scientists. New challenges will emerge bi-annually, following the initial May 30 deadline.

Dr. Yamada acknowledges that many of these projects will fail, but the Foundation stands ready to provide full support to those that do succeed. He points out “if we are not willing to take risks and fail often, we will miss many opportunities to capture novel approaches that can transform a field.”

Personally, I am excited about the adventure. This sort of freethinking is a breath of fresh air. It seems we've been on a merry-go-round of cause and side effect. Dr. Yamada is correct when he says – “it takes humility to let go of old concepts and familiar methods. “ It is a sentiment that we should always keep close. It's entirely possible that we’ve become stagnant and a bit too comfortable with thinking 'inside the box'.

Read my article on Antibiotic Resistance @ Her Active Life