TOKYO—A Japanese foundation will try to discover innovative approaches to neglected infectious diseases with a Grand Challenge.
The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT) has announced it will invest up to $1 million per candidate "for early stage development of radically new and improved drugs, vaccines or diagnostics to prevent and treat infectious diseases that are prevalent in developing countries."
The challenge is modeled on, and being coordinated with, the Grand Challenges program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports high-risk, high-payoff approaches to solving global health and development problems.
GHIT's challenge, however, has some unique twists. Applicants must be partnerships between Japanese and non-Japanese entities. "If you look at the portfolio of Grand Challenge [grants] right now, there's not really much coming out of Japan; our role is to tap into the innovation capabilities here in Japan," says GHIT Executive Director BT Slingsby. The fund also sees the challenge program as extending its current efforts, which support preclinical and clinical work on promising drugs for neglected diseases using Japanese resources and capabilities. The new Grand Challenge "is to go even further upstream" to support early-stage work on promising targets that might eventually enter GHIT's more generously funded development pipeline.
They are going to be selective, picking two, three, or four projects a year and supporting them for 2 years or so in hopes they will then be ready for the next stage in development. Slingsby says they expect to award approximately $2 million in grants each year, which he believes will be adequate for the early-stage ideas they are looking for.
GHIT was set up in April 2013 and is supported by the Japanese government, six major Japanese pharmaceutical companies, and the Gates Foundation. The fund targets malaria, tuberculosis, Chagas disease, visceral leishmaniasis, and other diseases afflicting the poor in developing countries.
Slingsby says their Grand Challenge program will be coordinated with the efforts of the Gates Foundation and other organizations working on neglected diseases "to make sure we are finding the most innovative stuff out there and that we're not being repetitive."
Applications are open as of today; the first round of winners will be announced in August.