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Health

Bill and Melinda Gates Just Launched a Biotech Startup to Fight Diseases

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched a new biotech startup with $273 million in funding for research on malaria, tuberculosis (TB), and enteric diseases over its first four years.

The new startup, called the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute (MRI), was introduced at the BIO International Convention in Boston last week by Dr. Penny Heaton, the institute’s CEO.

"We don’t have to worry about revenue, return on investment. Our bottom line is lives saved. So it’s a pretty exciting place to be," Heaton told STAT.

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The new institute opened in a temporary space in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in January and will concentrate its efforts on developing medications and vaccines, rather than discovering new ones.

"Our mission is to develop products that will enable the end of diarrheal disease deaths, eradication of malaria … and to accelerate the end of the TB epidemic," Heaton told STAT.

The institute will take ideas that have already been developed and work to bring them to the proof-of-concept phase. It will also find commercial partners to bring the treatments to market.

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Commercial partners will have to commit to producing the treatments at affordable prices, in large quantities, and must be able to do so quickly in the case of a disease outbreak.

The organization will first focus on tuberculosis, as there is current research that suggests a booster shot of the TB vaccine Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) can work to reduce infection rates.

"Is it as simple as [giving] a boost in these countries with high prevalence that could help really accelerate the end of the TB epidemic?" Heaton said.

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Heaton, who was head of vaccine development in the Gates Foundation’s global health program, will be joined by Trevor Mundel, head of the Gates Foundation’s global health operations, David Kaufman from Merck Research Labs, and many others at the MRI, according to Healthcare Global.

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