5 Years ago Bill Gates decided to seek out proposals from the world’s top scientists. He wanted these scientists to submit their ideas for tackling the biggest problems in global health. About 1,600 proposals came in and he chose 43 that he felt were the most promising. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ended up dishing out $450 million in five-year grants — more than double what he originally planned to give.
Now the five years are up, and the foundation recently brought all the scientists together to assess the results and decide who will get further funding.
In a NY Times article on this topic, Mr. Gates sounded somewhat chastened, saying several times, “We were naïve when we began.” Despite discoveries on many fronts, up to two-thirds of the grants either did not get renewed or may not in the near future, Mr. Gates estimated. In some cases, it was because they were not succeeding, either scientifically or because of political obstacles, or someone else had found a better path. In others, the foundation changed the goal.
As an example, he cited the pursuit of vaccines that do not need refrigeration. “Back then, I thought: ‘Wow — we’ll have a bunch of thermostable vaccines by 2010.’ But we’re not even close to that. I’d be surprised if we have even one by 2015.”
He underestimated, he said, how long it takes to get a new product from the lab to clinical trials to low-cost manufacturing to acceptance in third-world countries.
In 2007, instead of making more multimillion-dollar grants, he started making hundreds of $100,000 ones. “Now,” he said, only half-kidding, “you get a hundred grand if you even pretend you can cure AIDS.”
That little won’t buy a breakthrough, but it lets scientists “moonlight” by adding new goals to their existing grants, which saves the foundation a lot of winnowing. He added, “a scientist in a developing country can do a lot with $100,000.”
“But I thought some would be saving lives by now, and it’ll be more like in 10 years from now.”
Well to Mr. Gates: The grant amounts that are being donated could have a huge impact on bringing therapies to the whole world and not only to developing countries. Wanting to help poorer countries is certainly a noble goal however a greater good can be accomplished by investing in life extension because it will help both the developing countries and the rest of the world. Close attention needs to be paid to regenerative medicine, genome regulation, neuroscience, and other technologies in this field as those can result in groundbreaking discoveries that would benefit all of humanity as opposed to thermo-resistant vaccines that would help a small portion of the world’s population. Let’s not fail to mention that most of the grant money donated 5 years ago has resulted in failed pursuits to date.
Mr. Gates needs to be facilitating and supporting life extension research. What is important is to identify and develop strategies to slow and combat the human aging process. Controlling human aging will enable us to remain alive, healthy and vigorous for centuries.
Mr. Gates said: “No idea is too radical” in what he termed as the Grand Challenges in Global Health and the goal was to pursue paths that the National Institutes of Health and other grant makers could not. Based on these statements in the article, we can see that the money has not been spent effectively so far. As life extension specialists, gerontologist and on behalf of all humanity – we are urging you to help pursue an expansion into anti-aging research.