There are initial signs that the coronavirus sweeping the globe––officially known as COVID-19––is slowing its rampage in China, its origin point, but things in the U.S. seem to just be getting started as WHO proclaims the outbreak a pandemic. Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has made a substantial pledge to help researchers develop a treatment.
Funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the donation program––dubbed the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator––is a whopping $50 million, or around £39.2 million, to be dispersed to 12 pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms which are actively looking to find an effective vaccine against the coronavirus. But that donation comes with a crucial caveat: the successful company or companies must make the vaccine affordable and accessible to even the world’s poorest regions.
“Viruses like COVID-19 spread rapidly, but the development of vaccines and treatments to stop them moves slowly,” Mark Suzman, chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a statement. “If we want to make the world safe from outbreaks like COVID-19, particularly for those most vulnerable, then we need to find a way to make research and development move faster. That requires governments, private enterprise, and philanthropic organisations to act quickly to fund R&D.”
As impressive as the $50 million donation is, it’s merely a portion of a larger fund spearheaded by the Gates Foundation. It has partnered with Wellcome, also contributing $50 million, and Mastercard Impact Fund, which has committed $25 million, bringing the grand total to $125 million.
The overall aim is to share research, coordinate investments and pool resources to find the quickest path to a viable treatment. The organisations leading the charge have a three-pronged approach in getting there, according to a press release: 1) testing approved drugs for activity against COVID-19, 2) screening libraries of thousands of compounds with confirmed safety data, 3) and considering new investigational compounds and monoclonal antibodies. Any drugs or effective antibodies that pass the initial screening will be further developed and, simultaneously, the Accelerator will work with regulators to align criteria and manufacturing capacity.
Director of Wellcome, Dr. Jeremy Farrar, said in a statement, “COVID-19 is an extremely challenging virus, but we’ve proved that through collaborating across borders we can tackle emerging infectious diseases. We must strive to strengthen efforts in the face of COVID-19, and in doing so, continue to make sure advances are accessible and affordable to all. Investing now, at scale, at risk and as a collective global effort is vital if we are to change the course of this epidemic.”