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06/30/2005 07:00:00

Baltimore Offered $13.9 Million from Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative for AIDS Research

PASADENA, Calif.- The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, a major effort to achieve scientific breakthroughs against diseases that kill millions of people each year in the world's poorest countries, today offered 43 grants totaling $436.6 million for a broad range of innovative research projects involving scientists in 33 countries, including David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to create "deliverable technologies"--health tools that are not only effective, but also inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute, and simple to use in developing countries.

The initiative is supported by a $450 million commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as from two new funding commitments: $27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust, and $4.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The initiative is managed by global health experts at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and CIHR. Additional proposed Grand Challenges projects are under review and may be awarded grants later this year.

Baltimore's grant is to address Grand Challenge #12: Create immunological methods that can cure latent infection. He has been offered a grant of $13.9 million for his proposal "Engineering Immunity Against HIV and Other Dangerous Pathogens."

Baltimore's team will explore a fundamentally new way of stimulating the immune system to fight off infectious diseases, focusing on HIV as a test of the concept. The premise of this project is that for some infections, including HIV, the immune system's natural responses are inherently inadequate, and therefore the traditional approach of using vaccines to stimulate and boost these responses is likely to be ineffective. As an alternative, Baltimore and his colleagues propose to genetically engineer immune cells that can produce adequate responses. Their work is intended to lead eventually to immunotherapy for people who are infected with HIV. It could also lead to new ways to prevent HIV infection.

"This grant offers me and Pamela Bjorkman, my collaborator, the opportunity to bring a new concept into the fight against infectious diseases. We are deeply grateful to the Grand Challenges initiative for giving us this opportunity and look forward to turning our dream into a reality," said Baltimore.

The Grand Challenges initiative was launched by the Gates Foundation in 2003, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, with a $200 million grant to the FNIH to help apply innovation in science and technology to the greatest health problems of the developing world. Of the billions spent each year on research into life-saving medicines, only a small fraction is focused on discovering and developing new tools to fight the diseases that cause millions of deaths each year in developing countries.

"It's shocking how little research is directed toward the diseases of the world's poorest countries," said Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "By harnessing the world's capacity for scientific innovation, I believe we can transform health in the developing world and save millions of lives."

Following the publication of the Grand Challenges in October 2003, more than 1,500 research projects were proposed by scientists in 75 countries.

"We were overwhelmed by the scientific community's response to the Grand Challenges. Clearly, there's tremendous untapped potential among the world's scientists to address diseases of the developing world," said Nobel Laureate Dr. Harold Varmus, chair of the international scientific board that guides the Grand Challenges initiative. Varmus is president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and former director of the National Institutes of Health.

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Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226 jperry@caltech.edu

Visit the Caltech Media Relations Web site at http://pr.caltech.edu/media

Written by Jill Perry