Gates Foundation Joins New $460 Million Coalition for Vaccines

  • Seeks to be able to contain global outbreaks like Ebola, Zika
  • ‘We had a scientific challenge’ Bill Gates said in interview

Bill Gates on Creating and Testing Vaccines

A global group tasked with more quickly developing vaccines against infectious disease threats worldwide was launched Wednesday by a coalition of governments and nonprofit groups including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bill Gates

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, funded with an initial investment of $460 million from Germany, Japan, Norway, the Wellcome Trust and the Gates foundation, aims to develop vaccines against known infectious disease threats that could be deployed quickly to contain outbreaks before they become global health emergencies, the group said in a statement at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“We have to be ready for a surprise, and that’s why our goal is really platform development," said Bill Gates, co-chairman of the foundation, in an interview with Bloomberg in Davos. With epidemics like Ebola, “we had a scientific challenge - these new platforms weren’t ready."

The initial investment is about half of the $1 billion needed for the coalition’s first five years and it aims to complete fundraising by the end of this year. The group will initially target viruses that have known potential to cause serious epidemics, it said, and hopes to shorten the development period for vaccines, pointing to the global public health panics following the emergence of outbreaks like Zika and Ebola.

In the interview Gates, 61, also said he tried to persuade U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to spend more on government funding for research in areas like energy, education and an HIV vaccine at a meeting last month.

“I talked about American innovation and how it’s a good deal -- if you invest in the basic research the private industry will take it -- it creates jobs, helps the world,” Gates said. “There are a lot of claims against the budget, changes in tax policy, so I can’t say what comes out of that but I felt that I got a warm reception."

Gates also tried to encourage Trump to focus more on making the U.S. a top player in the clean energy market. "These energy breakthroughs will serve a climate goal but also a goal of energy security and if people are buying clean energy output that’s what the world market will be, the U.S. should try and compete for it," Gates said he told Trump.

The billionaire philanthropist spoke with Trump twice -- initially in an eight-minute phone call and then a meeting at Trump Tower in New York on Dec. 13.

Gates said he remains an advocate of free trade, even as Trump questions trade deals and has threatened to penalizing companies that manufacture outside the U.S. or move jobs overseas. Still, Gates said it’s important to figure out why so many people in the U.S. feel left behind not just by trade but by technological progress.

"Everyone is trying to be thoughtful about who are these constituencies that feel left out and why do you get this feeling that although science and technology are improving so much people’s sense of whether their lives are improving is fairly negative," he said. "That definitely causes you to step back and think O.K., could we do better?"

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