Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and the fourth largest fortune in the world ($124 billion), resigned from his company in 2014. With his wife, he created the “Melinda and Bill Gates” foundation in the early 2000s. for access to quality care for all human beings.
In 20 years, this largest private foundation in the world has spent 53 billion dollars and employs some 1,600 people, according to the official site.
“If we let medicines and vaccines go to the highest bidders, instead of distributing them to those who need them most, we will have a longer, more unjust and deadlier pandemic.”
In 2011, before the members of the WHO, he already insisted on the need to vaccinate as many people as possible: “In the next 10 years, we should initially be able to eradicate poliomyelitis, and ultimately have five vaccines available to all children in the world.“
In July 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, he will launch during an international virtual conference on Covid-19: “If we let medicines and vaccines go to the highest bidders, instead of distributing them to those who need them most, we will have a longer, more unjust and deadlier pandemic.”
The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation funded 44 projects in Belgium
In our country, we don’t know much about it, but it has funded many research centers, pharmaceutical companies and universities working in these areas of health. In all, 44 projects for an amount of 131.3 billion euros. Among them, the REGA Institute of Biosafety of the KULeuven.
Johan Neyts, professor of virology at KULeuven and head of the lab recalls: “I have no contact with Bill Gates but we were in contact with his foundation before the pandemic, he had financed the development of a new technology for vaccines. He knew that we had a unique lab to test products at broadband against pathogenic viruses. In February 2020, at the start of the pandemic, he asked us if we could test 18,000 molecules of existing drugs against the coronavirus. In all, he gave us almost a million euros. “
At the Rega Institute of the KULeuven the foundation has opened doors
He tells us that he has contact, every week, with representatives of the foundation, and also a weekly meeting with his experts; “Of course we have to present results but we remain free to do with them what we want”and to continue: “It is interesting to work with them, because the foundation allows us to open doors. It is a very professional organization which has contacts with the whole world. Which facilitates, for example, the setting up of clinical studies .”
If we hadn’t had that funding, we wouldn’t have been able to do this study.
HASToday, the team spotted a few drug combinations active against the coronavirus in hamsters. We have to test them and find the one that will have the best protection against Covid. It takes a lot of work. Johan Neyts affirms it: “If we hadn’t had this funding, we wouldn’t have been able to carry out this study. We need teams of specialists who take turns day and night, including Sundays. It’s expensive!”
Bill and Melinda Gates divorce? The virologist thinks it will have no impact. Research is progressing, first drugs seem to give results in some patients. We could well have a combination of effective drugs on the market by the end of the year.
Other university research centers have also received donations such as the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp for research on sleeping sickness and neglected tropical diseases, the universities of Ghent, Antwerp, or the ULB . But the foundation also has partnerships with pharmaceutical companies such as Janssen Pharmaceutica or Univercells for the development of a micro-factory which can manufacture in underprivileged countries, millions of doses per year at a lower price against polio.
Producing these vaccines specifically for these developing countries would not be profitable without a partner. The prices are not the same for these low-income countries. We wouldn’t make the investment.
At GSK (Glaxo SmithKline), Elisabeth Van Damme the spokesperson explains:We are working in collaboration with, among others, the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, for the production of future vaccines but also for current ones to ensure global access to them. Without this partnership we would not be able to make available to everyone, for example, polio, HPV (against papillomavirus) or pneumococcal vaccines. But for example, to develop a vaccine against tuberculosis, which kills millions every year, we also need the foundation.“
And to admit that: “Producing these vaccines specifically for these developing countries would not be profitable without a partner. The prices are not the same for these low-income countries. We would not make the investment.”
The Malaria vaccine cost 1 billion including money from the foundation
Each partner has their commitments, and must keep them. The spokesperson for the pharmaceutical giant gives us an example: “In 2010, we had a supply agreement for millions of pneumococcal vaccines, we had to invest in an additional factory to fulfill the contract. For the malaria vaccine, our scientists worked for 30 years developing of this vaccine, which was the first ever against a parasite. This is thanks to the partnership with the Gates Foundation.”
How many ? Difficult to say according to Elisabeth Van Damme, the funding of research for the vaccine against malaria cost 1 billion euros, including money from the foundation. The vaccine received the green light from the European Medicines Agency in 2015, it is currently being tested in a WHO (World Health Organization) pilot project in three African countries.