The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said today it is partnering with Wellcome and Mastercard to commit $125 million in seed funding toward an accelerator created to speed up development of treatments for COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator is designed to bring together resources and expertise to lower the financial and technical risk for academia, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies, while ensuring that new treatments are accessible and affordable to people in low-resource settings.
The Accelerator will identify, assess, develop, and scale-up new and repurposed drugs and biologics, with an immediate focus on COVID-19 and a long-range plan to fight viral pathogens through work on broad-spectrum antivirals or immunotherapies, according to the Gates Foundation.
“Viruses like COVID-19 spread rapidly, but the development of vaccines and treatments to stop them moves slowly,” Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in a statement. “If we want to make the world safe from outbreaks like COVID-19, particularly for those most vulnerable, then we need to find a way to make research and development move faster. That requires governments, private enterprise, and philanthropic organizations to act quickly to fund R&D.”
The Gates Foundation will contribute up to $50 million—half of the $100 million it committed last week toward efforts against COVID-19—while Wellcome will chip in an equal amount and the Mastercard Impact Fund, up to $25 million.
Mastercard created the impact fund in 2018 by committing 20% of its savings from U.S. and European tax-cutting laws toward establishing the non-profit organization, with plans to award up to $500 million in charitable grants.
“Our experience with financial inclusion shows us the importance of building a network of parties who bring not only their capital, but complementary assets and skill sets to the table, and we welcome other partners concerned about inclusive growth to join this effort,” added Mike Froman, vice chairman of Mastercard.
The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will operate jointly as an initiative of its funders, drawing on expertise from inside and outside their organizations.
According to the Gates Foundation, the Accelerator will pursue several aspects of the development cycle to streamline the pathway from candidate product to clinical assessment, use, and manufacturing. To identify candidate compounds, the Accelerator will:
- Test approved drugs for activity against COVID-19;
- Screen libraries of thousands of compounds with confirmed safety data, and
- Consider new investigational compounds and monoclonal antibodies.
Drugs or monoclonal antibodies that pass initial screening would be developed by an industry partner. The Accelerator will rely on biopharmas to contribute compound libraries and clinical data, as well as commercialization and other expertise needed to scale up successful drugs and monoclonal antibodies.
The Accelerator also plans to work with regulators to align criteria and develop manufacturing capacity with industry, reasoning that an accelerated pathway to bringing effective treatments to patients will be about one year for products that have current regulatory approval, or candidates with existing clinical data—and longer for compounds less advanced in their development, with limited existing clinical data.
The Accelerator said it intends to de-risk the pathway for new drugs and biologics for COVID-19 and future epidemic threats, ensuring access in lower-resource countries. To that end, the Accelerator intends to work with the World Health Organization, governments, and global regulatory agencies—as well as private sector funders and organizations providing fast and flexible funding at key stages of development.
“Science is moving at a phenomenal pace against COVID-19, but to get ahead of this epidemic we need greater investment and to ensure research coordination,” stated Jeremy Farrar, PhD, director of Wellcome. “The Therapeutics Accelerator will allow us to do this for potential treatments with support for research, development, assessment, and manufacturing.”