The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced an initial grant of $50 million to support science and innovation in low- and middle-income countries at the ongoing 17th Grand Challenges Annual Meeting.
The Grand Challenges Global Call to Action is a 10-year initiative that will prioritize grants to scientists from low- and middle-income countries and support a balanced representation of women principal investigators.
The long-term initiative is designed to ensure scientists and institutions in low- and middle-income countries play a central role in shaping the global R&D agenda and developing solutions that can better meet the needs of their communities. Initial focus areas will include data science, such as mathematical modeling to inform national malaria control programs; digital health services for pregnant women; and innovations to close gaps identified by current programs for eliminating neglected tropical diseases.
“We need the ideas and leadership of the people who are closest to the global health challenges we’re working to address,” said Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The Grand Challenges Global Call to Action represents our commitment to advance innovation and equity while strengthening local partners in a sustainable way.”
At the annual meeting, which takes place November 8-11, the foundation will also launch the Global Immunology and Immune Sequencing for Epidemic Response (GIISER) program, which works to ensure scientists have the capacity to rapidly detect if new SARS-CoV-2 variants in their communities show signs of evading immune response. This will allow national and regional stakeholders to respond appropriately and develop products that meet the specific needs of their geographies. GIISER will operate as a decentralized network of autonomous and geographically distinct hubs that are able to connect local pathogen sequencing data and clinical epidemiology with local immunological understanding and tools. As part of this program, the foundation will provide $7 million over two years to investigative teams in eight countries (South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, and India) to expand their existing immunological capacity.
To further support scientists who are developing the innovations needed to end the pandemic and address urgent global health priorities, the foundation will announce the first cohort of the Calestous Juma Science Leadership Fellowship program on the second day of the meeting (November 9). Named after the late Calestous Juma, one of the world’s foremost visionaries in African-led science, the fellowship was launched at last year’s annual meeting to support the next generation of scientific leaders in Africa. The inaugural cohort includes 14 fellows from 8 African countries – 8 women and 6 men – who are leading projects that range from computational drug discovery to molecular epidemiology. Each fellow will receive up to $1 million over five years.
The Grand Challenges Annual Meeting is a global forum for researchers around the world to share their work, learn about cutting-edge advances in the field, and collaborate with other investigators and organizations. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive inequity across the globe, this year’s meeting will focus on strengthening scientific collaborations to end the pandemic everywhere and promoting an inclusive recovery.
The 2021 fully virtual meeting is hosted by Global Grand Challenges partners and co-sponsored by Grand Challenges Canada, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Wellcome, the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute (Gates MRI), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Speakers at this year’s meeting include:
- Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- Jason S. McLellan, Professor and Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry, University of Texas at Austin
- Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for Africa, World Health Organization
- John Nkengasong, Director, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
- Melanie Saville, Director of Vaccine Research and Development, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
The event will feature dozens of leaders from across the global health innovation landscape, as well as Gates Foundation leadership, including Bill Gates (Co-Chair & Trustee); Melinda French Gates (Co-Chair & Trustee); Mark Suzman (CEO); and Trevor Mundel (President, Global Health Division). The sessions will be posted online shortly after the meeting.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that solving the most pressing challenges in global health and development requires more of the world’s brightest minds working on them. The Grand Challenges family of initiatives seeks to engage innovators from around the world to solve these challenges. Grand Challenges initiatives are united by their focus on fostering innovation, directing research to where it will have the most impact, and serving those most in need.
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the US, it seeks to ensure that all people – especially those with the fewest resources – have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Mark Suzman, under the direction of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates.