Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Provides New Shot in the Arm to the Fight Against Infectious Disease

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Monday announced a new $100 million initiative to help solve major health crises.

In a call to innovative thinkers, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Monday announced a new $100 million initiative to help scientists worldwide pursue novel ideas for solving major health problems. Called the Grand Challenges Explorations Initiative, the program plans to give $100,000 to each approved project, with opportunities of additional funding of $1 million or more for projects that demonstrate success during the initial phase.

The five-year program will publish topics and invite proposals twice annually, in two separate rounds. In each round, grant seekers can submit a proposal for one topic which they can select from a specific set of topics for that designated round.

The announcement included the four topic areas designated for the first round of Grand Challenges, which includes creating drugs or delivery systems that limit the emergence of resistance, creating new ways to prevent or cure HIV infection, creating new ways to protect against infectious diseases, and exploring the basis for latency in TB.

Approximately 60 projects will be funded in this round, and proposal submissions will be accepted beginning on March 31, 2008, with the deadline for registering intent to submit a proposal set at May 15, 2008. The Explorations initiative is open to submissions by non-profit organizations, for-profit companies, and academic institutions across the globe. No grants are awarded on an individual basis. Additional details about the initiative and proposal submissions can be found here.

"Breakthrough ideas can come from anywhere, and we hope this new process will encourage a broad range of scientists from around the world to bring their ideas to the table," stated Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program, in a foundation press release. Dr. Yamada went on to say that the foundation is especially interested in reaching people who work outside the field of global health, innovators in the developing world, and young investigators.

Although the initiative is designed to cast a wide net for breakthrough ideas, the foundation stresses that the approaches proposed must be lie outside the realm of current strategies. For example, projects for HIV utilizing approaches such as behavior modification, promotion of condom use, antiretroviral compounds, neutralizing antibodies, or other concept currently under clinical investigation will not be considered for funding.

Like the creative thinking that the program wishes to attract, the foundation is utilizing an unconventional, accelerated process to grant awards. Proposal applications will be accepted online, are only two pages long, and do not require preliminary data. Additionally, the review and selection of applications is expected to be complete within approximately three months after the submission deadline, which for the first round of proposals is May 30, 2008.

The Grand Challenges Explorations initiative is an outgrowth of Grand Challenges in Global Health, an effort launched by the foundation in 2003 that aims to address 14 scientific challenges to solving health problems affecting the world’s poorest populations. Funded by a foundation grant of $450 million, the Grand Challenges of Global Health program supports numerous projects addressing child health, nutrition, reproductive and maternal health, and infectious diseases.

Jill Taylor is an MDNG freelance writer and consultant whose professional writings services can be found at