Gates Foundation Plans To Invest In Biotech Companies To Improve Global Access To Treatments, Vaccines For Infectious Diseases

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “plans to take equity stakes in up to a dozen biotech companies this year, signaling a shift towards a ‘venture capital’ approach at the world’s biggest philanthropic organization” and “mark[ing] a further move away from its traditional approach of grant-giving and towards a more business-oriented way to support the development of treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases affecting the world’s poor,” the Financial Times reports. Trevor Mundel, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, said the foundation will make a series of investments worth several million dollars each “and not ask for a return but for global access. … We will specify the countries and the diseases,” according to the newspaper. The Financial Times notes that “[t]he move points to growing interest in working directly with companies rather than primarily through co-operating via non-profit ‘product development partnerships’ or intermediaries such as the Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Tuberculosis Alliance” (Jack, 6/26).

In a post on the Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Julie Sunderland, director of Program-Related Investments at the foundation, writes, “Because the foundation’s investment activity is driven by charitable, rather than financial goals, we can actively invest in this high-risk period of capital constraint to ensure that great teams with great platform technologies — and potentially life-saving products — can pursue global health applications in areas aligned to our program priorities.” She adds that the foundation plans to increase their biotech investment activity “to take advantage of opportunities to achieve the kind of transformative innovation that can allow us to provide millions of poor people with cost-effective, life-saving treatments” (6/28).