The formidable trio of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mastercard, and British research charity giant Wellcome are banding together to spur faster development of, and greater access to, treatments for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus strain wreaking public health havoc across the globe.
“The world does not have a very big armory for antivirals,” Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman tells Fortune. “While there’s a huge amount of work being done today to immediately address the crisis, this initiative is more for longer-term treatments.”
Under the partnership, the three organizations will create a COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator and commit up to $125 million in seed funding for the entity. The goal is to not just to advance to market more antivirals and immunotherapies that can treat COVID-19, but to make sure that vulnerable populations can access and afford such therapies once they’ve been created.
Mastercard vice chairman Mike Froman notes that his company has a simple incentive, beyond corporate citizenship, to help tackle the pathogen. “Coronavirus is a major public health issue, but it’s also an issue for economic growth and economic vitality,” he tells Fortune. “As a global company, it’s in our interest that we get back on track with our economies. We thrive when economies thrive around the world.”
Mastercard is pledging up to $25 million toward the effort while the Gates Foundation and Wellcome are each pledging up to $50 million. More broadly, the Gates Foundation announced an up to $100 million pledge to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
The initial steps will focus on screening the antiviral therapeutic libraries of major biopharma companies, Gates Foundation chief Suzman and Wellcome director Jeremy Farrar explains.
“We can move ahead right away, we can start moving those compounds and testing them rapidly,” says Suzman. “We hope to identify three to four compound subsets that are most likely to be efficacious and then would be in conversations with regulatory authorities on how to accelerate their development in the clinic.”
“We would bring together the regulators and the manufacturers so we can move things along as quickly as possible and assist the large-scale manufacturing process,” Farrar tells Fortune. “And then finally, we would make an absolute commitment that treatments are made available to the world as needed.”
“This is a completely unprecedented epidemic, so it’ll require an unprecedented response.”
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