Bill Gates is networking on universal flu vaccine


Even the second-richest man in the world doesn’t feel he has enough money to develop a universal flu vaccine with just the resources of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That’s why he’s networking. Just last week, Bill announced that the Gates Foundation put up $6 million, matched by another $6 million from Google co-founder Larry Page, to fuel advances in the vaccine, but that won’t be nearly enough. So, when he met last month with President Trump in the Oval Office, Gates said he launched “the longest conversation about universal flu vaccine that the president’s ever had,” according to Stat. “You should associate yourself with American innovation. Wouldn’t you love to have the universal flu vaccine be something that really got kicked off and energized by you?” Gates asked Trump.

This wasn’t idle chit-chat: within minutes, the President was “super interested” and picked up the phone to reach out to the head of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, to hear what was in the pipeline that would give lasting protection against a range of seasonal and animal flu viruses with pandemic potential. Apparently, not much. However, the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease has already spent $64 million on universal flu vaccine research in fiscal year 2017 alone, according to Bloomberg.

The Gates Foundation has already given more than $9.5 million to support the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s efforts on a universal flu vaccine, which is already in clinical trials, according to The Verge. And, the Foundation’s recently announced $12 million will be doled out for individual flu vaccine projects “that are bold and innovative,” in grants of up to $2 million (paid over two years) for researchers to collect preliminary data in animal models. The most promising strategies will then be eligible to apply for up to another $10 million to take the vaccine candidates to human trials, ideally by 2021.

If you, or anyone you know, had this year’s flu, you know how terrible it can be. But, that was nothing compared to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that wiped out 500 million people worldwide – about a third of the global population, including some 675,000 Americans, and 3,000 San Franciscans – including my great-grandmother and uncle. This is why a universal flu vaccine is a national defense issue, as well as a healthcare concern.

It’s going to take networking with other government powerhouses, like NIH Director Francis Collins and Alex Azar, HHS Secretary, as well as the head of the National Security Council, before this becomes a national priority with hundreds of millions invested. “So,” Gates said, “the action item is very much on me or the community who care about these things to talk to federal officials, both defense and non-defense. There will have to be a variety of voices that come back to him and say: Hey, you may have heard of this topic, here’s a plan that’s concrete and sort of fits within the resources we have.”

This is called networking.

by Mimi Grant, President, Adaptive Business Leaders (ABL) Organization – Round Tables and Events for CEOs of Healthcare and Technology Companies