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Bill Gates sounds the alarm on resurging pandemic

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.”

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‘Ultimate global crisis’ tests US-China relations

Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman
Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman discusses the coronavirus pandemic from his home study during a virtual event for GeekWire members. (GeekWire via Zoom)

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.”

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Gates Foundation CEO addresses pandemic politics

Mark Suzman
Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman speaks at a World Economic Forum session. (WEF via YouTube)

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.

In some corners of the online world, the Gates Foundation is painted as a villain, stoking fears and pushing a global vaccination agenda for the sake of “Big Pharma.” Anti-vaccine activists link Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates with the World Health Organization and infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci — and not in a good way.

The conspiracy theories have always been there, but Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman acknowledges that they’re getting added traction now, thanks in part to the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re aware that there’s allegations made in social media and other [channels] about nefarious schemes the foundation is alleged to be part of,” Suzman told GeekWire today, in connection with an announcement that the foundation is allocating $150 million more to fighting the pandemic.

“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.”

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Amazon, Gates Foundation boost COVID-19 testing

A lab worker at the University of Washington Virology Lab gets a virus sample ready for testing. Details of the package have been obscured to ensure privacy protection. (UW Medicine via YouTube)

Amazon Care is offering assistance to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a plan to deliver coronavirus test kits to Seattle homes, CNBC reports.

The plan as described hints at a grand convergence involving two major players on Seattle’s tech scene, plus the University of Washington and the Seattle Flu Study.

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.

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Gates Foundation to boost COVID-19 detection

Bill Gates
Bill Gates at the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2020 annual meeting in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

By Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle

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.”

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Gates Ag One to help farmers cope with climate

Farm in Africa
Gates Ag One will focus on accelerating agricultural innovation for smallholder farmers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. (Gates Foundation Photo)

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.

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Bill Gates connects ‘Star Trek’ to fighting malaria

Mosquito
Anopheles mosquitoes are carriers for the malaria parasite. (CDC Photo / James Gathany)

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?

That’s exactly what Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is doing in today’s Gates Notes posting to kick off Mosquito Week.

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Gates Foundation backs malaria-blocking mosquito

Mosquito
Anopheles mosquitoes are carriers for the malaria parasite. (CDC Photo / James Gathany)

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.

Previously, the Gates Foundation supported Oxitec’s development of male Aedes mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered so that their female offspring don’t survive to adulthood.

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Gates commits $100M to microbiome project

Image: Microbes
Humans are hosts to a diverse microbiome, including these organisms. Clockwise from top left are Streptococcus (Credit: Tom Schmidt); a microbial biofilm of mixed species, from human body (Credit: A. Earl, Broad Institute/MIT); Bacillus (Credit: Tom Schmidt); and Malassezia lopophilis (Credit: J.H. Carr, CDC). Image credit: Jonathan Bailey / NHGRI.

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.”

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