Today we are excited to announce 43 Phase I winners from 12 countries in the Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative. In this 16th round of GCE, we received over almost 1,400 applications from 99 countries in our request for proposals seeking ideas around four topic areas. The two new topics Explore New Solutions in Global Health Priority Areas and Novel Approaches to Characterizing and Tracking the Global Burden of Antimicrobial Resistance were indicative of the breadth of the GCE program. The former was an effort to revisit the broad, open topics characteristic of the early days of GCE, seeking new ideas around challenges we still face in diagnostics and vaccines for global health, while the antimicrobial resistance topic sought to open new avenues to reduce the evidence gaps in the understanding antimicrobial resistance. In addition, two challenges were reintroduced from the previous round: Addressing Newborn and Infant Gut Health Through Bacteriophage-Mediated Microbiome Engineering; and Explore New Ways to Measure Delivery and Use of Digital Financial Services Data. The new grantees from GCE Round 16 join the GCE family of almost 1,200 Phase I grantees in over 60 countries pursuing innovative solutions to grand challenges in global health and development.
A few examples of the great ideas funded at Phase I are listed below. You can view the full list here. These projects have received $100,000 USD and 18 months to achieve proof of concept with their idea.
- Francisco Diéguez from Disal in Chile will determine whether samples collected from portable toilets found across Pacific coastal regions in South America can be used to monitor pathogenic diseases and antibiotic resistance and help combat these major public health concerns.
- Kirill Alexandrov of the University of Queensland in Australia will develop a low-cost diagnostic that uses well-established glucose biosensors to detect DNA of infectious pathogens.
- Diane Joseph-McCarthy of EnBiotix Inc. in the U.S. will use a systems biology approach to model the complex interplay between the host and microbes in the gut to highlight the potential effects of phage therapy. Her team will incorporate publicly available data and modeling algorithms to produce a visual interaction network to aid investigators in generating testable hypotheses about the microbiome and its interactions with the host.
- Iris Braun of IFMR LEAD in India will expand access to microloans for the poor in Bangladesh by piloting a simple credit-scoring test for rating individuals. Poor households are often in need of small, short-term loans to buffer fluctuations in income; IFMR LEAD will work to alleviate this problem by developing credit scores based on mobile customer data to increase lender confidence.
GCE grantees are selected in a blinded and champion-based review process, and projects are awarded based on the transformative potential of the ideas presented. As a part of this high-risk high-reward mindset for GCE, we fully expect that some of the projects will fail, while some will achieve proof of concept during their Phase I work. Those that provide proof of concept and maintain the innovative nature and the potential for impact, may be selected for Phase II funding. We are delighted to highlight several GCE Phase II grantees who have received additional funding to take their Phase I projects forward. A list of all GCE Phase I grants receiving follow-on funding can be found here.
- Robert Gerbasi of the Naval Medical Research Center in the U.S. will continue to seek malaria vaccine targets for the liver-stage of infection using novel parasite cultivation strategies. These newly identified antigens may be used to supplement the existing RTS,S vaccine, improving levels of protection from malaria.
- Gregory Goldgof, Elizabeth Winzeler and colleagues from the University of California, San Diego in the U.S. will continue using their drug-sensitive yeast strain, developed by deleting the main multi-drug export pumps, to identify targets for compounds with activity specifically against either the liver stage of the malaria parasite, which could be used to cure infected patients, or the gametocyte stage, which could reduce the rate of malaria transmission.
- Kirsten Hanson from the Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Portugal will continue to refine an assay to quantify late Plasmodium liver-stage development in vitro using Plasmodium berghei infection of HepG2 hepatoma cells. They will use the assay to identify the compounds most likely to provide protective immunity in humans.
- Jacquin Niles of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. will use the scalable TetR-aptamer system for manipulating gene expression in the parasite genome to produce a reference panel of over 150 stable parasite lines in which target genes of interest can be conditionally regulated. This resource will be valuable for investigating basic parasite biology as well as for drug development.
- Dyann Wirth of the Harvard School of Public Health in the U.S. will move from an in vitro proof of concept to an in vivo platform based on the P. falciparum humanized mouse system to identify combinations of anti-malarial compounds that inhibit the development of drug resistance, which is a major barrier to combatting the disease.
- Lakshminarayanan Ragupathy of HLL Lifecare Ltd. in India will test whether the natural rubber latex condoms with incorporated graphene developed during Phase I are more pleasurable to use and are as safe and effective as traditional latex condoms.
- Ron Frezieres of the California Family Health Council in the U.S. along with Max Abadi of Unique International in Colombia and I.MAXX Inc. in the U.S. will continue to improve and test a stronger and thinner male condom made of polyethylene to promote condom use.
- Laura Jelliffe-Pawlowski of the University of California, San Francisco in the U.S. will continue to work with the algorithm developed during Phase I to measure gestational age from metabolic markers taken during routine newborn screening. They will further adapt and test their algorithm for use in Malawi and Uganda and determine its value for identifying newborns at risk of neonatal death or complications.
- Kumanan Wilson of Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada will continue development of an algorithm to estimate gestational age using specific metabolic analytes found in blood spots collected routinely from newborns in many countries. They will further adapt and test their algorithm and evaluate performance on samples from Bangladesh and Zambia.
- James Nataro of the University of Virginia in the U.S. will use new mouse models of environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) developed during Phase I to further study the effects of malnutrition on severity of infection, associated growth retardation, and the presence of intestinal inflammation.
- L. David Sibley at Washington University School of Medicine in the U.S. will continue to improve the long-term in vitro intestinal epithelial culture system for the intracellular parasite Cryptosporidium developed during Phase I.
Please join us in congratulating the 43 GCE Phase I winners along with those who recently received follow-on funding, and wishing them the best of luck as they seek to solve some of the biggest challenges in global health and development!
Applications for the next round of Grand Challenges Explorations will be accepted in September 2016. To receive email updates with the latest grant opportunities for the Grand Challenges family of programs, sign-up here.
Perhaps the next great idea will be yours!
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 1,200 projects in more than 60 countries have received GCE grants. The program is open to anyone from any discipline or organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded twice a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million. Sign up here to receive updates and announcements of open challenges.
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