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Six Canadian projects receive funding from Gates Foundation


Bangkok, Thailand – Six Canadian investigators have received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of an announcement of 104 grants being made by the foundation to support projects that explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health.

The grants of US$100,000 are being made to scientists from 22 countries and five continents. They mark the first round of funding from Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help lower the barriers for testing innovative ideas in global health.

The initial set of grants are aimed at injecting fresh perspective into research for preventing or curing infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB, and limiting the emergence of drug resistance. Successful applicants had to show how their project falls outside current scientific paradigms and could lead to significant advances if successful, in just two pages.

“We were hoping this program would level the playing field so anyone with a transformational idea could more quickly assess its potential for the benefit of global health,” said Dr Tachi Yamada, president of global health at the Gates Foundation, who announced the grants at the fourth annual meeting of the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative in Bangkok. “The quality of the applications exceeded all of our expectations. It was so hard for reviewers to champion just one great idea that we selected almost twice as many projects for funding as we had initially planned.”

104 grants were selected from nearly 4,000 proposals, with the geographic distribution of applicants largely matching the geographic distribution of awards. The applicant details were not provided to reviewers, helping them to focus on the innovation of the idea instead of a scientist’s credentials, geographic location, or organization’s reputation.

All levels of scientists are represented, including young investigators who never before have received a research grant, and those who were applying experience from other fields like bioengineering. Grants were made to universities and other nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and six private companies.

The Canadian projects that received funding are as follows:

“A Novel Structure-Based Model for the Prediction and Exploitation of Resistance Mutations”. Primary Investigator: Ryan Lilien, University of Toronto. Dr Lilien will work to computationally model the structural and functional effects of point mutations on a target protein’s active site. With the development of predictive models of pathogen evolution and the spread of resistance, this information can be used to guide drug development and optimization.

“Drugs That Target Multiple Receptors for Anthelmintics”. Primary Investigator: Timothy Geary, McGill University.

“Novel Ways of Inducing Early Life Immunity”. Primary Investigator: Volker Gerdts, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, University of Saskatchewan. The project will use live viral vectors to immunize fetuses during pregnancy to induce immune responses in the unborn baby, thereby protecting the infant against early life infections.

“Testing of a Therapeutic PolyBAIT Concept for In Vivo Protection Against Cholera Toxin”. Primary Investigator: Sanah Jowhari, TheraCarb. Grant Summary: Ms Jowhari at TheraCarb, a biotechnology company, will apply polymer-based drug technology to capture and remove the Cholera toxin from the body of a host, and validate an approach to developing a viable drug candidate for Cholera.

“Arctic Essential Genes Used to Create Temperature Sensitive Pathogens”. Primary Investigator: Francis Nano, University of Victoria.

“Development of Methods to Induce or Improve Immune Responses Directed Against Cryptic Microbial Antigens”. Primary Investigator: Hugo Soudeyns, Centre de recherche du CHU Sainte-Justine.Grant Summary: The project will incorporate engineered frameshifting gene cassettes into vaccine vectors in hopes of eliciting broader T helper and cytotoxic T cell response, leading to better protection against disease.

A complete list of all projects awarded around the world can be found at http://www.gcgh.org/explorations/Pages/GrantsAwarded.aspx.