The Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, a nonprofit biotech organization funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has announced its initial strategy to develop solutions aimed at ending preventable deaths from diseases that disproportionately affect the world's poorest people.
Announced in April 2017 and launched last January, the institute is focused on translational medicine and advancing the development of novel drug and vaccine candidates for diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhea, which collectively contribute to 2.6 million deaths each year, many of them children. In its first steps toward actual product development, the institute plans to initiate a study to replicate earlier clinical findings that showed promise in revaccinating adolescents against tuberculosis with the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine. Phase-two data have shown that a second dose of the vaccine, which is primarily used in infants, may have a preventative effect when administered to at-risk adolescents.
Once a candidate has achieved human proof of concept, Gates MRI plans to partner the program with an organization that has late-stage development and manufacturing expertise, which could include nonprofit product development partners, manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries, and pharmaceutical companies.
"I've always thought that TB was the hardest, and the one it would take us the longest to make progress in," Gates MRI chief executive Penny Heaton told Forbes. The benefit of such a booster vaccine would be "enormous," but it would require philanthropic support because no one else would underwrite human tests. "These studies need to be done, but this is a very inexpensive vaccine, and there's not a big market — there would be no incentive for a private partner to take on a study of this nature."
Over the past year, Gates MRI has assembled a staff of more than twenty at its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and plans to double that number by the end of 2018. With a budget of $100 million, the institute eventually is expected to grow its staff to as many as a hundred.
"I feel more motivated than ever by the biotech industry's sense of urgency in developing and delivering innovative, life-saving cures and vaccines," Heaton said ahead of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization's 2018 BIO International Convention, where she discussed the institute with Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman. "As an organization, we're working to ensure that life-saving vaccines are developed for those who need it most."