Ebola, Zika Push Global Health Leaders to Cooperate

Ebola, Zika Push Global Health Leaders to CooperateEbola, Zika Push Global Health Leaders to Cooperate

The Ebola and Zika epidemics are pushing governments, industries and philanthropies to work together to develop cutting-edge technologies to combat infectious disease threats, according to the chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“You have to have an aggressive strategic plan,” said Sue Desmond-Hellmann in an interview, ahead of the release of a letter Monday reflecting on the foundation’s lessons learned as it has invested more than $36.7 billion in global health, development and US education initiatives.

The two epidemics present “a huge global opportunity now” to develop better defenses. “We have challenged ourselves to be more ready.”

Discussions are advancing among global health leaders on two key questions: how global authorities should respond more quickly to epidemics, and how to accelerate research and development into tools to combat infectious diseases that are rare or primarily afflict the poor. There are no drugs or vaccines for many epidemic diseases, in part because they are not considered reliable sources of revenue for manufacturers, reported.

Desmond-Hellmann cited a $52 million investment by the foundation in CureVac, a German biopharmaceutical company, as the type of partnership that could produce new tools against epidemics. CureVac is developing vaccine technologies based on messenger RNA that would instruct the body to produce its own defenses against infections. The funding, which the foundation announced in 2015, is for construction of a manufacturing facility; the foundation said it would provide additional funding to develop vaccines for several infectious diseases.

An oncologist and former chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, she has held her current post for two years.

She cited examples of partnerships the foundation has funded that have helped to drive down rates of neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness. New data-gathering efforts, diagnostic technologies, and drugs are all helping to strengthen public health infrastructure and guide disease-fighting, an approach that she calls precision public health.

 She also acknowledged shortcomings in the foundation’s initial investments backing Common Core standards. “Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards,”

Now, though, “we’re doubling down on our efforts to make sure teachers have what they need to make the most of their unique capabilities,” she wrote, citing investments in new instructional materials and tools for teachers.