The good news is that Operation Warp Speed, the multibillion-dollar effort to develop vaccines for COVID-19, is moving ahead at a pace that justifies its name.
The bad news is that despite all that effort, the coronavirus outbreak is still likely to be with us next year — and low- to medium-income countries such as India are likely to be hit particularly hard.
“We’re going to probably see a lot of deaths,” said Lynda Stuart, deputy director for vaccines and human immunobiology at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s going to be a great inequity and tragedy that will unfold.”
Stuart and other experts involved in the vaccine quest laid out their assessment of the road ahead today during the first session of the 2020 GeekWire Summit.
Tech leaders typically use their TED talks to sketch out an optimistic vision of the future, but today Bill Gates used his to warn about a rough autumn ahead due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s good progress … but nothing that would fundamentally alter the fact that this fall in the United States could be quite bad, and that’s worse than I would have predicted a month ago,” he told moderator Chris Anderson during a live-streamed TED2020 Q&A.
Although Gates didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, he faulted a lack of American leadership for making things worse.
“We need leadership in terms of admitting that we’ve still got a huge problem here, and not turning that into almost a political thing,” he said. “You know, ‘Isn’t it brilliant, what we did?’ No, it’s not brilliant. … We need a leader who keeps us up to date, is realistic, and shows us the right behavior as well as driving the innovation track.”
The CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is disappointed that the United States isn’t on the same page with other nations when it comes to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but he says it’s still possible to present a united front in dealing with what he calls “the ultimate global crisis.”
Mark Suzman, who stepped into the foundation’s top executive role in February just as the pandemic was ramping up, points to a high-profile conference held this week as an example. Leaders and luminaries from Europe, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world pledged $8 billion to help the World Health Organization fight COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, the United States did not participate in that event,” Suzman said today during a live virtual event for GeekWire members. “But the United States is putting a lot of resources, obviously, into the COVID vaccine. Our hope is, at a minimum, can we make these investments complementary to each other, so you don’t have any duplicative races that are wasting resources.”
Seattle’s Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in the public health spotlight, thanks to its efforts to head off just the sort of global pandemic we’re now experiencing — but not all the exposure it’s getting is healthy.
“All I can say is, one, we’re completely transparent about who we are and what we do,” he said. “We are able to talk about any and every investment and grant we make. We’re very transparent about our mission, our values, and we really have nothing to hide.”
Amazon Care is an on-demand healthcare clinic that’s open on a pilot basis to Seattle-area Amazon employees and their families. CNBC quoted unnamed sources as saying Amazon has offered to come up with a plan to deliver the test kits, which include nasal swabs to take samples, at no cost.
In an email to GeekWire, an Amazon spokesperson said “we’re in discussions with leaders in public health about how we can help” – but didn’t provide further details.
A report says the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is preparing to fund at-home testing kits for the novel coronavirus in Seattle.
However, the Gates Foundation cautions that the plans aren’t final.
The kits, to be available in the “coming weeks,” would quickly identify hot spots where the disease is spreading, according to The Seattle Times. The newspaper quotes Scott Dowell, leader of coronavirus response at the Gates Foundation, as saying it the initiative “has enormous potential to turn the tide of the epidemic.”
Dowell cautions in the story, however, that there are many details to work out, and a launch date hasn’t been set.
In a statement to GeekWire, the Gates Foundation said, “The Seattle Times article today addressed the potential to adapt the Seattle Flu Study to support local public health agencies in the greater Seattle area in detecting COVID-19. Our team has and will continue to actively explore ways that we can contribute to local response through the application of the study. While we’re working quickly with our partners to determine what’s possible, details of this support have not yet been finalized.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is starting up a new nonprofit group that will focus on providing small-scale farmers in developing countries with the tools and innovations they’ll need to deal with the effects of climate change.
It’s Mosquito Week at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a time to focus on the global campaign to eradicate malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. And if delving into the nuts and bolts of developing an effective malaria vaccine doesn’t grab you, how about adding a “Star Trek” angle?
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is extending its partnership with Oxitec, a British mosquito control company, to develop mosquitoes that are genetically engineered to suppress malaria.
Oxitec’s latest project follows up on its work with Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species that can spread a range of diseases including yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika fever — but not malaria. A different type of mosquito, Anopheles, is the carrier for malaria parasites.
The White House has unveiled more than half a billion dollars’ worth of public and private programs aimed at unraveling the mysteries of microbes – and Seattle’s Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be contributing more than $100 million to that National Microbiome Initiative over the next four years.
The initiative, announced May 13, will take advantage of the key role that microbial communities, also known as microbiomes, play in our gut as well as in agriculture and global ecosystems. Research into the workings on microbiomes could lead to new treatments for diseases, better crops and a healthier environment. Microbial transplants are already being used to treat conditions such as C. difficile, a debilitating bowel disease.
“Clearly, applications are critical. Ultimately the promise of the microbiome has to be realized,” microbiologist Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said at the White House kickoff briefing.
U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat who is also a trained microbiologist, said the scientific payoff “is going to be like splitting the atom, I think, when you get all this done.”