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Bill Gates funds study to find what kills Covid-19

Bill Gates takes his philanthropy very seriously. Overall, he has pledged over $100 million to fight the Covid-19 outbreak.

The foundation has pledged “to improve detection, isolation and treatment efforts”, and as part of this, they have paid to have 15,000 molecules tested as a potential cure for the coronavirus.

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There is no proven cure for the novel coronavirus, although some medicines have already been approved. This type of trial typically takes years, and although trials have been accelerated tremendously, development is still painstaking and slow.

However, dozens of vaccine trials are already in the pipeline, and research for antivirals and immune boosters is also underway. Several research groups are also testing old treatments for other conditions — for instance, a lab in Japan is trialing some HIV drugs against Covid-19.

But the World Health Organization is adamant:

“There is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy, and that’s remdesivir,” said WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward at a press conference last month.

This is where the new effort might come in handy.

Essentially, Bill and Melinda Gates have paid to have 15,000 medicinal molecules tested at a leading laboratory in Leuven, Belgium. All of these molecules promising ingredients in different types of antiviral treatments. They were shipped from the Scripps research institute in California, and they will be tested to see if they inhibit or destroy the novel coronavirus, says Prof. Johan Neyts, who will carry out the analysis.

Of course, this is a far cry from a full-fledged therapy. The testing effort is only the first step into what is a lengthy and difficult process, but it’s a very important first step that can make future research less of a shot in the dark, and more likely to be successful. The Leuven lab is one of only a handful in the entire world that can analyze thousands of compounds quickly. It is hoped that this effort can direct future research and create a library of what works against the novel coronavirus and coronaviruses in general.

Of course, it is unlikely that there will be any miracle cure. But even a small inhibition can help — and if several substances are found to be effective separately, they can be combined to help cure very ill patients.

“Drug discovery can also be accelerated by drawing on libraries of compounds that have already been tested for safety and by applying new screening techniques, including machine learning, to identify antivirals that could be ready for large-scale clinical trials within weeks,” Gates wrote on his foundation’s website.

Bill Gates and other philantropists invest $30 million to boost early Alzheimer’s detection

Along with Estée Lauder chairman emeritus Leonard Lauder, Bill Gates announced a new $30m award to encourage the development of new tests for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The money will be awarded over three years.

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer’s. Image credits: NIH.

In 2013, as many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease and the CDC estimates that by 2050, the number will grow to 16 million. Elsewhere in the world, figures are similar, with 9.9 million new cases of dementia each year worldwide, implying one new case every 3.2 seconds.

Age is the best-known risk factor for the disease, although family history and lifestyle also play significant roles in the development of the disease. Other aspects, such as education have been linked to a reduction in Alzheimer’s cases, but that link is still being investigated. At any rate, early detection is critical to the management of the disease — and this is where Bill Gates steps in.

Gates, who recently announced that his father suffers from Alzheimer’s, has already invested $100 million towards stopping the disease, and has been particularly interested in understanding the onset and early stages of Alzheimer’s

“One of the things we’re trying to figure out is, when does the Alzheimer’s really get started?” he told NBC’s Maria Shriver in January. “When would you need to treat somebody to completely avoid them getting Alzheimer’s?”

Gates and Lauder provided seed money for the diagnostics collaboration through the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), which was founded by Lauder. They’re not the only two investors in this fund — the Dolby family and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation will also contribute.

The funding will be available to scientists and clinicians globally, as long as they work in academic settings, charities, or biotechnology companies. The program, dubbed the Diagnostics Accelerator, will also invest into riskier projects, which may not have an immediate commercial return, and are therefore less likely to receive other types of funding.

Currently, Alzheimer’s diagnosis is a long and painstaking process, involving several cognitive tests, followed by a brain scan or a spinal tap, which are used to determine whether the patient is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. The process is not only lengthy, but also expensive, and in the case of a spinal tap, quite painful.

Additionally, patients don’t typically get tested for the disease until they start showing cognitive decline — and by that point, much of the damage has already been done. In a recent blog post, Gates writes:

“Research suggests Alzheimer’s starts damaging the brain more than a decade before symptoms start showing. That’s probably when we need to start treating people to have the best shot at an effective drug.”

Gates envisions a world where having an Alzheimer’s test is as simple as “getting your blood tested during your yearly physical.”

Research suggests that future isn’t that far off, and Diagnostics Accelerator moves us one step closer,” Gates concludes.

Bill Gates invests $100 million to study and defeat Alzheimer’s

Say what you want about Gates as a businessman but as a philanthropist, he’s definitely putting his money where his mouth is. His latest enterprise is fighting Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 30 million people every year and kills almost 2 million.

A health revolution

Despite what you may see on the news, this is the best time to be alive. This isn’t saying that everything is peachy in the world — quite the opposite can be said in many areas of the planet — but it is, on average, better than at any point in human history. Thanks to continuous advancements in science, we’re living more than ever. In the developed world, at least, people routinely live to be 80 or even 90 years old. In other words, we’ve pretty much figured out how to make people live longer, though the practices aren’t yet implemented in most parts of the world. But now, it’s time for a new revolution: it’s not only about making people live longer, but it’s more about making sure that they make the most out of those extra years.

“In every part of the world, people are living longer than they used to,” Gates writes on his blog. “Thanks to scientific advancements, fewer people die young from heart disease, cancer, and infectious diseases. It’s no longer unusual for a person to live well into their 80s and beyond. My dad will celebrate his 92nd birthday in a couple weeks, a milestone that was practically unimaginable when he was born.”

“This fact—that people are living longer than ever before—should always be a wonderful thing. But what happens when it’s not?”

Gates was specifically referring to Alzheimer’s. The disease, which causes 60% to 70% of cases of dementia, devastates both those who have it and their loved ones. The most common early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events, but as the disease progresses, symptoms become much stronger and harder to manage.

The causes of Alzheimer’s are poorly understood, but scientists have seen that the disease is tightly connected to aging. The damage that the disease does is also very difficult to quantify. However, the financial cost is easier to calculate. As Gates explains, Americans will spend $259 billion caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2017. Unless unforeseen advancements take place in future years, that figure will continue to grow.

“I first became interested in Alzheimer’s because of its costs—both emotional and economic—to families and healthcare systems. The financial burden of the disease is much easier to quantify. A person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia spends five times more every year out-of-pocket on healthcare than a senior without a neurodegenerative condition. Unlike those with many chronic diseases, people with Alzheimer’s incur long-term care costs as well as direct medical expenses. If you get the disease in your 60s or 70s, you might require expensive care for decades.”

Investing in a healthier future

In the case of Alzheimer’s, just like in most medical problems, hefty investments can not only improve the quality of life for people, but they can also save a lot of money. Gates believes that by investing $100 million, he will be saving mankind much more than that in the long run, in addition to making a positive impact for millions of people. So he’s investing $50 million in start-up ventures working in Alzheimer’s research, and another $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund — a fund that brings together NGOs, governments, and industries to provide much-needed investment in innovative therapies and treatment avenues for Alzheimer’s. The main objectives of this investment are:

  • Understanding how Alzheimer’s emerges and unfolds. The brain is a complex and complicated organ, every disease that affects it is bound to be complex itself.
  • Diagnosing Alzheimer’s sooner. There is no direct way to diagnose Alzheimer’s — except an autopsy. We need to better identify this disease if we want to treat it.
  • Finding more treatment approaches. Many drugs to treat Alzheimer’s exist, but they generally follow similar avenues. We need to diversify our approach, Gates says.
  • Making it easier for people to get involved in clinical trials. There’s a lot of research going on in the field, but it can sometimes take years to enroll patients for studies.
  • Using data in a better way. Every time a study is carried out, lots and lots of information are gathered, but sometimes, this data isn’t accessible or compiled for others to use.

“By improving in each of these areas, I think we can develop an intervention that drastically reduces the impact of Alzheimer’s. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about our chances: our understanding of the brain and the disease is advancing a great deal. We’re already making progress—but we need to do more,” Gates concludes.


Some of the richest in the world join Bill Gates to invest in the biggest private climate fund


Image: Flickr

Bill Gates and 27 other billionaires with a collective net worth of $350 billion have joined forces to launch the biggest private climate fund in history. The multi-billion dollar fund, called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, will focus on cutting edge research and development to accelerate the growth of renewable energy and other sustainable technologies.

As reported yesterday by ZME Science, the fund’s efforts will be doubled by government action in parallel. U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande joined Gates to unveil a plan which will see the United States, China and 17 other countries double government spending on energy research in the next five years.

The announcement was made on Monday to coincide with the opening day of COP21 in Paris, where already some immense projects were announced like the founding of the International Solar Alliance or the Transformative Carbon Asset.

“It’s got to give the negotiators even more confidence than they’ve had up to now,” said Anne Kelley, who directs the Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy program at Ceres, a coalition of environmentally focused investors. “It sends a message that investors are committed. There’s a sense of inevitability of a low-carbon economy when you talk about this amount of money going into it.

Joining Gates in the massive private initiative are:

  • Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
  • Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn
  • Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group
  • Patrice Motsepe, chairman of African Rainbow Minerals
  • Xavier Niel, founder of Iliad Group
  • Hasso Plattner, chairman of SAP
  • Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank Group
  • Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons
  • Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
  • Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Limited
  • John Arnold, co-chair of Laura and John Arnold Foundation
  • Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Alwaleed Philanthropies
  • Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
  • Priscilla Chan, CEO of the Primary School
  • Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates
  • Aliko Dangote, CEO of Dangote Group
  • John Doerr, general partner of Kleiner Perkins
  • Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Chris Hohn, founder of The Children’s Investment Fund
  • Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures
  • Julian Robertson, chairman of Tiger Management
  • Neil Shen, managing partner of Sequoia Capital China
  • Nat Simons, co-founder of Prelude Ventures
  • Laura Baxter-Simons, co-founder of Prelude Ventures
  • George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management
  • Tom Steyer, president of NextGen Climate
  • Pan Shiyi, chairman of of SOHO China
  • Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China

Besides some of the most important tech executives are also institutions like the University of California and the Office of the Chief Investment Officer United States. No specific details were announced concerning how much the fund is worth, but Gates suggested its in the multi-billion range. The University of California alone announced it will pledge $1 billion, and earlier this summer Gates said he would invest at least $1 billion too. In fact, it was around this time that Gates devised his plan, frustrated by how slow progress is in basic research.

“It was surprising to me that the R&D piece had not been part of the discussion,” Gates said.

“Historically, it takes more than 50 years before you have a substantial shift in energy generation, but we need to do it more quickly,” Gates told The Washington Post. “We need to move faster than the energy sector ever has.”

The announcement was only made today, so we’re really looking forward to hearing about the first projects that will get funded. In time, other billionaires, investment funds and concerned citizens will likely pitch in.


Bill Gates to launch multi-billion climate fund – the biggest ever


The wealthiest man in the world, Bill Gates, will announce on Monday a massive private-government partnership for a new clean energy research fund. This is reportedly the biggest research and development fund for clean energy ever, which will funnel billions to support innovation in this section. The precise details of the multi-billion partnership will be revealed once with the opening of the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris.

According to ClimateWire, the governments involved in the partnership — including the United States and India — will agree to double their research and development budgets for clean energy and form a coalition to conduct joint work. Private companies will also pledge resources to support the initiative. This, of course, includes Bill Gates’ money as well.

Earlier this summer, Gates said he would invest $1 billion in researching and deploying clean energy technology. The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation is already funding quite a few projects that aim to address energy problems – especially in the developed world. Some of Gates’ funded projects were covered by ZME Science, like the Omniprocessor that  turns sludge into electricity and pure, clean water or the solar power toilets.

Sources close to Gates, however, report that Gates will actually invest a lot more than one billion. Other billionaires, inspired by Gates, might soon follow in his footsteps if they haven’t already. The hype is in full swing, and this partnership does indeed sound ground breaking.

“It’s spectacular what public research and development has created in this country. You cannot name a single technology that hasn’t had a huge boost [from public funding],” said Hal Harvey, chief executive of clean energy consultancy Energy Innovation. Noting clean energy is a $5 trillion market, Harvey added, “We’re not going to be in it if we don’t decide R&D is one of our core strengths.”

Indeed, there’s a great deal of technology that’s been born out of gov-funded labs, particularly the military. The fact of the matter is energy corporations are for-profit, and with the notable exceptions of a couple visionary leaders in their fields, these companies will always be behind the wave as far as fundamental research is involved. Their expertise and market-orientated approach is great to help renewable energy grow vertically, and helps scale the technology on an incremental basis. If we really want to make great leaps forward, though, this requires a lot of money funneled into research with no immediate expectation for a return of investment.

The timing of the announcement sends a clear signal for action against global warming, just in time to support COP 21 – the United Nations summit where world leaders will pledge to reduce or cap their greenhouse gas emissions.

“[..] we need innovation that gives us energy that’s cheaper than today’s hydrocarbon energy, that has zero CO2 emissions, and that’s as reliable as today’s overall energy system. And when you put all those requirements together, we need an energy miracle. That may make it seem too daunting to people, but in science, miracles are happening all the time,” Bill Gates said in an interview.

Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot


World’s first malaria vaccine on course for 2015

It’s actually happening

Good news – encouraging results from the longest and largest trial of a malaria vaccine could see the world’s first anti-malaria jab approved by 2015; malaria is one of the most dangerous diseases in the world, affecting over 220 million people every year (some say 300 million). The vaccine could be used for the first time in late 2015 or early 2016.

malaria vaccineEarlier this year, we told you about another possibility for developing a malaria vaccine, or even a soap which helps prevent the disease – but those ideas were still in the initial testing periods; in this case, the vaccine is actually heading for the shelves.

“It’s on that trajectory, and the plan is to file with the European Medicines Agency in 2014,” says David Kaslow, vice president of product development at the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which supported development of the vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

A green light from the European agency, expected in 2015, would allow African countries (which are most affected by the disease) to use it by 2016. So far, the vaccine, called RTS,S was tested on 15.000 children in 11 African trial sites. Half were babies aged 6 to 12 weeks and the other half were aged 5 to 17 months. Half of all the children received the real vaccine, while the other half received a placebo; all groups continued to take standard measures of precaution against malaria, such as sleeping under bed nets to keep mosquitos away. Data shows the vaccine worked best in the older aged group.

After the one year mark, results were encouraging: there were 56 per cent fewer cases in the older group and 31 per cent fewer cases in the younger group. After an additional 6 months, the results started to go down by just a little bit: 46 per cent fewer cases of clinical malaria in the older age group, and 27 per cent fewer cases in the younger group – but this was expected.

“We expected this,” says Kaslow. “Efficacy wanes for most vaccines, which is why, for example, we give booster shots for tetanus.”

The monitoring of the children will continue in the future, but the results are positive enough to convince GSK to submit the vaccine for approval.

“While we’ve seen some decline in vaccine efficacy over time, the sheer number of children affected by malaria means that the number of cases of the disease the vaccine can help prevent is impressive,” says Andrew Witty, chief executive officer of GSK.

Given the efficiency of the vaccine compared to other ones which exist on the market today, there shouldn’t be any significant problems.

Thanks, Bill Gates!

Bill Clinton And Bill Gates Testify At Senate Hearing On Global HealthEven though the vaccine is developed by GSK and the giant pharma company invested $300 million in this product which will arguably never generate profits, the vaccine would have never been done (or at least would have been greatly delayed) without the help of Bill Gates, who invested $200 million, through the Seattle-based PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. Bill Gates has also donated huge amounts of money to the development of an HIV vaccine, and in total, he’s pledged $10 billion to developing various vaccines. He’s also funding artificial clouds to fight greenhouse gases and is a firm advocate on green energy. Quite a way to spend your money!

“I can’t believe my luck,” says Joe Cohen, the GlaxoSmithKline scientist who co-invented the RTS,S vaccine and has guided its development. “I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been associated with the development of this vaccine since 1987.” And now there is a chance he will see it given to millions of children who need it.

Bill Gates is paying for artificial clouds to fight greenhouse gases

To be quite honest, I was never really fond of the man, but ever since he quit his executive positions at Microsoft, I’m starting to like him more and more. The reason is not that he’s giving money away, but the causes he’s giving the money for. I’m not really sure how practical this idea is, but if it has any chance of becoming reality, it’s definitely worth looking into (plus it’s the first time I’ve read about such a thing).

The first trials of the controversial sunshielding seem to come at the right time, as the UN failed to secure an agreement on cutting greenhouse gases. The American and British researchers are not going to wait for an international law to pass (which, the way things are going, is not going to happen tomorrow) and see gas emissions levels rise to the sky.

Instead, here’s what some of them have planned: machines that basically suck up 10 tonnes of seawater per second and throw it in the air, to form white clouds and help reflect the Sun’s rays away from Earth. There have been numerous proposed methods of technologically cooling our planet, but according to an efficiency study, this is among the best candidates. It’s estimated that the ships needed to manage such a task would cost only £5 billion. However, the atmospherical consequences are still up for debate, with both sides coming with good arguments. I haven’t been able to get some good documentation though, there just doesn’t seem to be much information about this, but it seems to be a really interesting project nonetheless.