Gates Foundation on Funding Spree

For Eleanor Riley, an immunologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, it must have felt like Christmas in July. The source of her midsummer cheer: $40 million from the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "I'm absolutely delighted. This is at least 10 times bigger a grant than I would have expected for my entire career," says Riley, who last Monday received the funding for a 5-year collaborative project to come up with new ways of fighting malaria.

$40 million London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Develop new treatments and preventive measures for malaria
$44.7 million Harvard Medical School Develop a model for controlling multidrug-resistant tuberculosis
$20 million Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene & Public Health Improve third world maternal and child health by micronutrient supplements
$90 million Various institutions AIDS/HIV

The grant for Riley and her colleagues was only one slice of the high-calorie funding cake--worth almost $200 million altogether--that the Gates Foundation, one of the world's largest science-funding philanthropies with an asset base of $21.8 billion, dished up for scientists in various fields. Other beneficiaries are infectious disease specialist Jim Yong Kim of Harvard Medical School in Boston, who received almost $45 million to develop a program to control multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), and Alfred Sommer of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore, to study how cheap vitamin and mineral supplements can reduce maternal and child mortality in developing countries. The foundation kicked off the spending spree in mid-July at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (Science, 14 July 2000, p. 222), by announcing AIDS/HIV-related grants totaling $90 million.

With the new money, Riley and her colleagues intend to expand research into new drugs and insecticides and to set up research centers in malaria-endemic areas of Africa. "We hope the Gates money is acting as some sort of catalyst to bring other partners on board," says Riley. In parallel to a similar project in Russia bankrolled by the World Bank, Kim and his team are gearing up to develop a multidrug treatment program for MDR-TB patients in Peru that can easily be adopted by other countries. "This will have an enormous impact. We're going to be able to treat all the MDR-TB patients in Peru and, in the process, to adapt a complicated treatment protocol for a developing country," says Kim.

The recent grants for research into malaria and TB are the third big chunks of money the Gates Foundation has lobbed into the fight against these major killers within the last year. They come in the wake of the G8 meeting in Japan, at which the leaders of the world's economic heavyweights resolved to halve the death toll of malaria, TB, and HIV by 2010. Until the noble words are followed by paychecks, the Gates money is paving the way. But not for too long, Kim hopes. "There are rumors that the G8 will announce a $1 billion investment this fall," he says.

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