Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and his wife are to give US$220 million over five years to the non-profit biotech firm Aeras to develop vaccines to fight tuberculosis, a company statement said yesterday.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is donating the money to Aeras, which from its bases in the US and South Africa has developed six possible TB vaccines that are being tested across Africa, Asia, Europe and the US.
“This infusion of funding must be seen as a global call to action in response to one of the world’s deadliest diseases,” Aeras president and chief executive Jim Connolly said, expressing gratitude for the massive grant. “It will allow Aeras to expand upon existing partnerships in Europe, Africa, China, and around the world.”
About 8.8 million people globally fell ill with the contagious lung disease in 2010 and about 1.4 million died, according to the WHO.
Trevor Mundel, president of the global health program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the development of successful vaccines “would be the single greatest advance in the global fight against TB.”
Once known as “consumption” for the slow wasting away of the people who died of it, one out of every three people is thought to be infected by the airborne TB organism, though only a fraction go on to develop the disease.
The WHO estimates the global economic burden of TB is US$12 billion a year, with India and China together accounting for more than half that cost.