Gates Foundation Commits $258.3 Million for Malaria Research and Development
SEATTLE -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced three grants totaling $258.3 million for advanced development of a malaria vaccine, new drugs, and innovative mosquito control methods to help defeat malaria, a disease that kills 2,000 African children every day.
“For far too long, malaria has been a forgotten epidemic,” said Bill Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation. “It’s a disgrace that the world has allowed malaria deaths to double in the last 20 years, when so much more could be done to stop the disease.”
“Millions of children have died from malaria because they were not protected by an insecticide-treated bed net, or did not receive effective treatment,” said Gates. “If we expand malaria control programs, and invest what’s needed in R&D, we can stop this tragedy.”
Also today, the Malaria R&D Alliance, an international coalition of malaria research groups, released a new study reporting that global funding in 2004 for malaria R&D totaled just $323 million—far short of the amount needed.
Efforts to develop better malaria control tools have gained new urgency as drug resistance has rendered the cheapest and most widely-used antimalarial drugs useless in many parts of Africa. New combination treatments for malaria are very effective, but have remained out of reach for millions of Africans due to supply shortages and the relatively high cost of the drugs.
The three grants announced today include the following:
- $107.6 million to the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) to work with GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and African investigators to complete testing and apply for licensure of the most advanced malaria vaccine candidate
- $100 million to the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to work with public and private sector partners to accelerate the development of several promising new drugs through regulatory approval
- $50.7 million to the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC), led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, to fast-track development of improved insecticides and other mosquito control methods
“This is an incredibly exciting time in malaria research,” said Dr. Regina Rabinovich, director of the Gates Foundation’s infectious diseases program. “Investigators are pursuing a wide range of promising drugs, mosquito control methods, and vaccines, and for the first time, a malaria vaccine is poised to enter advanced clinical trials.”
Rabinovich noted that each grantee has developed a global access plan to help ensure new tools will be accessible and affordable for developing countries. “A vaccine, new drugs, and other new tools for malaria control will only be valuable if they reach those in need,” she said.
“GSK is committed to working in public-private partnerships to create safe and effective vaccines and treatments against malaria and the world's other global health challenges," said Dr. JP Garnier, CEO of GSK, which is collaborating with both MVI and MMV. "We hope other companies join this cause. But cutting-edge science is only half of the equation. International cooperation will be essential in order to ensure that these vaccines and treatments reach the millions who need them.”
Grant to Support Advanced Testing on Malaria Vaccine
The Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) will use its $107.6 million, five-year grant to support advanced clinical trials of a malaria vaccine candidate made by GSK’s vaccines division, GSK Biologicals.
Last year, a proof-of-concept Phase IIb trial in Mozambique found that the vaccine, known as RTS,S, offered partial protection for young children, cutting their risk of severe malaria by 58%.
The grant to MVI will support preparatory Phase IIb trials and a Phase III trial in multiple African countries. The trials will study RTS,S in young children as well as infants, and confirm that it is safe when given with other childhood vaccines.
“A vaccine is our best long-term hope to defeat malaria, and even a partially-effective vaccine would be a huge step forward,” said Dr. Melinda Moree, director of MVI. “We’re advancing this vaccine through final testing in the hope that it will be available to save lives as soon as possible.”
New Drugs Within Reach to Combat Drug-Resistant Malaria
The Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) will use its $100 million, five-year grant to work with public and private sector partners to develop new drugs that will be affordable and practical for use in poor countries.
“We’re racing the clock to develop effective, low-cost new antimalarial drugs,” said Dr. Chris Hentschel, CEO of MMV. “Five years ago, the malaria drug research pipeline was virtually empty; now we’re developing 20 promising compounds, and six are already in clinical trials.”
MMV’s portfolio includes several combination drugs that will cure malaria just three once-a-day doses and cost $1 or less, and another formulated for young children as a cherry-flavored pill that rapidly dissolves in water.
International Consortium to Target Malaria-Transmitting Mosquitoes
The Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC), led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, will use its $50.7 million, five-year grant to develop safer, more effective, and longer-lasting insecticides for mosquito control. The consortium will also develop improved bed nets and other insecticide-treated materials, and help health authorities determine how to deploy insecticides and bed nets for maximum impact.
“Historically, controlling mosquitoes has been key to controlling malaria, but mosquitoes are developing resistance to insecticides,” said Dr. Janet Hemingway, Director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. “We need new insecticides that are up to the task today, and that are safe for humans and the environment.”
Hemingway said that longer-lasting insecticides could be used to improve insecticide-treated bed nets, which are used to protect children from mosquitoes. In many cases, bed nets must be frequently re-dipped in insecticide to remain effective.
More Funding Urgently Needed for Malaria Research, Control
Also today, the Malaria R&D Alliance, an international group of malaria organizations, released the most comprehensive analysis to date of global funding for malaria R&D.
The report, based on a survey of public and private funders, found that while annual spending on malaria R&D has increased over the past decade, it totaled just $323 million in 2004 – less than 0.3% of total health research spending worldwide, and far less than the amount needed.
“The report shows in stark terms just how little is being spent on malaria research,” said Dr. Chris Hentschel of MMV. “There are many promising scientific leads that aren’t being explored or pursued rigorously due to lack of funding. If we want our children to grow up in a world without malaria, we need governments, private companies, and other funders to significantly increase their investments.”
More funding is also needed to rapidly expand access to existing malaria control strategies such as bed nets, mosquito control, and combination drug treatment. A fully-funded malaria control effort – which could cut malaria deaths in half by 2010 – would cost an estimated $3.2 billion annually, but only a fraction of this amount is being spent per year.
“As we step up malaria research, it’s also critically important to save lives today with existing tools,” said Bill Gates. “Bed nets cost just a few dollars each, but only a small fraction of African children sleep under one.”
In May 2005, the Gates Foundation announced a $35 million grant to help rapidly scale up and evaluate Zambia’s national malaria control program. The foundation has also contributed $150 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, which provides funding for national malaria control initiatives.