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Gates’ non-profit biotech for poverty diseases sets out its stall at BIO

Chief executive Heaton says GatesMRI will be a place where translational science meets medicine


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s new non-profit biotech - the Gates Medical Research Institute - had its first public outing at the BIO meeting last week.

Dedicated to the development of products to treat malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhoeal diseases and with a war chest from its parent of $273m over four years, Gates MRI has been in the planning stages for more than a year, recruiting its first employees in January. BIO was one of the first times it could present its vision of focusing on diseases that are underfunded by the private sector to a wide audience.

The new organisation is headed by chief executive Dr Penny Heaton (pictured below), a pharma industry veteran with direct experience of the toll levied by infectious diseases from her time carrying out research studies in western Kenya and her father’s battle with TB. It will effectively operate just like a biotech company, rubbing shoulders with its neighbours in the Massachusetts biotech hub, but with one pivotal exception - it is setting out to save lives, rather than make money.

Heaton says that while the world has seen tremendous progress in global health overall, malaria, the treatment of TB and diarrhoeal diseases have not seen much improvement and cause a huge number of avoidable deaths each year - 1.7m in the case of TB and around half a million apiece from malaria and diarrhoea/enteric diseases.

Penny Heaton

“Think of [Gates MRI] as a non-profit biotech that is focused on the diseases of the poorest,” she says. “We believe that those diseases - that disproportionately affect the poor - deserve the same attention, cutting edge technology…and sophisticated approaches that the diseases of the rich do.”

A key purpose of Gates MRI is to act as a catalyst that will bring together the collective expertise of academia, the biopharma industry, governments, patient groups and other bodies to tackle these healthcare problems, according to Heaton. It will focus directly on preclinical and clinical research, relying on partnerships for basic research, clinical applications and public health initiatives.

The targets of its programmes are still being identified, but include the development of an effective TB vaccine to prevent infections, and universal drug regimen for those already infected with the bacterium. Overall, Gates MRI says it intends to identify “novel candidates for drugs, vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and diagnostics” across all three of its target disease areas.

Previously, Heaton served as director of the vaccine development and surveillance team at the Gates Foundation, leading its vaccine development programmes against HIV, TB, malaria, pneumonia, enteric diseases, and polio.

The management team is largely assembled, and on the R&D side includes former Merck Research Laboratories scientist David Kaufman as chief medical officer and Jared Silverman - formerly of Kaleidos and Cubist Pharma - as head of translational discovery.

At the time of the appointments, Heaton said that the team at Gates MRI “will work to create a place where experts in translational science and medicine can come together, apply transformational science, and improve the lives of millions of people in the world’s poorest countries.”

Article by
Phil Taylor

12th June 2018

From: Research



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