Our efforts fall into four main areas: vaccine discovery, drug discovery, maternal and child health, and control of disease-transmitting mosquitoes.
A number of problems plague the development of vaccines against infectious diseases, including insufficient quality and diversity of preclinical candidates, slow progress toward early-stage testing in humans, and the high cost of clinical trials. It typically takes 15 to 20 years to go from target discovery to deployment of a new vaccine.
A low-cost microneedle patch for delivering inactivated polio vaccine is in the testing phase.
We invest in technologies that can identify promising vaccine candidates and refine them before they enter costly and time-consuming clinical trials. We also invest in research to better understand the health factors that affect susceptibility to infectious diseases and vaccine efficacy, such as malnutrition and co-infections. Furthermore, we seek more effective models of collaboration with major vaccine manufacturers to better identify and pursue mutually beneficial opportunities.
Our vaccine discovery efforts focus on developing vaccine technologies and closing knowledge gaps to facilitate the eradication of polio, testing a new strategy for developing a broadly effective HIV/AIDS vaccine, and enabling more rational and accelerated development of TB vaccine candidates.
Antimicrobial drugs have been the cornerstone of infectious disease treatment, but relatively few treatment options are available for the diseases that have the greatest impact in the developing world. Drug-resistant TB and malaria are also growing problems.
We work to speed the identification of the best drug candidates, and, as we do with vaccine discovery, we look for opportunities to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies because of their unique resources and expertise. We also seek to develop new technologies and approaches to slow the evolution and spread of drug resistance, including alternative formulations and drug-delivery technologies.
We support efforts to create a new generation of more effective and less toxic drugs to treat malaria, TB, visceral leishmaniasis (black fever), human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), onchocerciasis (river blindness), and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), and to control severe diarrhea. To take advantage of major advances in materials science, biology, and chemistry, we invest in developing new contraceptive technologies, including non-hormonal contraceptive drug discovery.
Maternal and Child Health
A broad range of scientific studies are needed to identify how maternal, fetal, newborn, and infant health outcomes are affected by factors including nutrition, infection, and exposure to environmental toxins.
An Australian team is developing an inhalable form of the drug oxytocin, which is used to treat postpartum bleeding.
We invest in research to discover the causes of preterm birth, which is a leading cause of infant mortality, and to develop innovative strategies for prevention. We fund projects to discover the causes of growth faltering in utero and during a child’s first two years of life—a window of time in which serious health problems can impair growth and affect long-term health—and to develop new ways to prevent or reverse unhealthy growth marked by stunting and wasting. One such project seeks to develop fetal growth standards through measurements of fetal growth under optimal conditions in sites across the world. We also invest in research to tackle the challenges faced by mothers and newborns from the onset of labor until 48 hours after childbirth—the most dangerous period for both mother and baby. Efforts include a project to develop an inhalable oxytocin powder to treat postpartum hemorrhaging.
Controlling Disease-Transmitting Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes spread many serious diseases, including malaria and dengue fever, to millions of people annually. A primary strategy for fighting these diseases is the use of insecticides to kill disease-transmitting mosquitoes, or vectors. Mosquitoes have grown increasingly resistant to available insecticides, however, and some insecticides are too toxic for widespread use. They also can require people to change their behavior to be effective—to use bed nets, for instance—and they need funding to maintain distribution systems.
Our investments in mosquito vector control include nontraditional biological and genetic approaches as well as new chemical interventions aimed at depleting or incapacitating disease-transmitting mosquito populations. One biological control project for dengue fever begun through our Grand Challenges in Global Health grant program has progressed to field trials in Australia, and approval is being sought for field trials in Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Diverse vector-control projects funded through our Grand Challenges Explorations grant program—including the use of infrared light as an invisible, easy-to-use bed net—could help achieve the goal of malaria eradication.