Sunday, March 16, 2008

Funding for Innovative Ideas

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just announced that beginning March 31, 2008, grant proposals will be accepted for the first round of funding for their initiative called “Grand Challenges Explorations”. This initiative will provide $100 million to help scientists across the globe pursue ideas that have never before been tested to help solve major health problems throughout the world. The initial grants will be awarded multiple times per year at approximately $100,000 each. An additional $1 million will be available for projects that show promise.

The first funding round will consider proposals in four topic areas that relate to latency in tuberculosis, ways to prevent or cure HIV infections, and finding new drugs and delivery systems. Another topic under consideration will look for new ways to protect against infectious diseases. The goal is to push past obstacles in vaccine discovery in order to expand the range of health interventions to protect against infectious diseases.

Several of the options within this category involve developing new computational or laboratory-based systems for rapidly testing vaccines and to be able to predict their efficacy. Another option is to discover new applications for new technologies for disease protection, such as the production of immunogens using synthetic biology or radical genetic engineering approaches.

The first application acceptance period will end May 30th 2008, with the first grants expected to be announced by the fall of 2008. For more information, go to

The “Grand Challenges Explorations” initiative is an expansion of the larger “Grand Challenges in Global Health” initiative that was launched in 2003 by the Gates Foundation in partnership with NIH. This initiative brings together science and technology to focus on adapting existing health tools like sophisticated laboratory tests, to be used for populations in developing countries. Many of the projects in this program are applying cutting-edge technologies that have never been used to advance global health.

One of the goals for the “Global Challenges in Global Health Initiative” is to develop technologies to assess the health status of populations in the developing world. For example, a grant was awarded in this program to Harvard University for $18.8 million to research how to wed epidemiology, biomedical research, and population health assessments. Researchers are hoping to produce new measurement tools that are science-based, standardized, and widely applicable across different resource-poor settings.

Another grant for $15.4 million was awarded to the University of Washington to develop a simple-to-use point-of-care device to bring sophisticated medical tests to remote areas of the developing world. The device being developed will be able to test blood for a range of diseases such as bacterial infections, nutritional status, and HIV related illnesses. The healthcare workers will be able to load a small blood sample into a disposable test card that contains all the necessary test reagents. To do the testing, the test card would be inserted into a device the size of a hand held computer with the results available in 10 minutes.