Gates Foundation Launches $100 Million-a-Year Non-Profit Biotech

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Credit: Jack/ Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 2.0)

Its official – the non-profit Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute (MRI) has launched into action. And what’s so great about this Boston-based start-up, is that it’s free from commercial pressures, which means that the core focus is to save millions of human lives.

With plans to staff around 120 people and spend $100 million a year, the research will be tackling malaria, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases, conditions that kill more than 3 million people a year but are low on the list of priorities at commercial research groups. The aim is to validate drugs, vaccines and antibodies that in usual profit-driven circumstances would be overlooked due to their commercial uncertainty.

The leadership team is a strong one too, made up of experts from Baxalta, Merck and Shire. Amongst the team is former director of the Gates Foundation, Penny Heaton. In an interview with STAT, Heaton said, “We don’t have to worry about revenue, return on investment. Our bottom line is lives saved. So it’s a pretty exciting place to be.”

This venture creates a new vision for drug development with a clear focus on the millions of people that die annually from contracting these diseases.


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Heaton points out that one reason the Gates Foundation decided to found MRI was simply a look at the facts. “TB, still 1.7 million deaths every year,” she told STAT. “You look at malaria, nearly 500,000 deaths every year. You look at enteric disease and while the rotavirus vaccines have done amazing things, we still have 500,000 deaths from enteric diseases every year in children under five. And so we were thinking about: What can we do to start to accelerate finding solutions for these areas?”

Gates MRI’s lead research project plans to test new immunization regimens with the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine. The work will build upon studies linking booster shots in adolescence and lower rates of TB infection and deaths.