It’s Time for a Revolution in Data Access

One of the greatest resources of the Global Health Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is our Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). It’s composed of renowned experts in health and medicine from around the world. We rely on these experts to strengthen our work by offering us independent assessments of our strategies and honest evaluations of our results.

We also have the privilege of meeting annually with the leadership of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The NIH is the world’s single-largest funder of biomedical research, and the meeting gives the Gates Foundation an opportunity to understand how our work can complement or enhance the efforts of the U.S. government to develop solutions for the leading causes of death and disability worldwide.

We take the recommendations of these two groups seriously, especially when they encourage us to focus on the same priorities. So I took note this year when both the SAC and the NIH urged the foundation to double-down on one particular investment.

The Gates Foundation is committed to developing transformative solutions for some of the toughest challenges in global health. We’re excited about the potential of many new products — from vaccines against the leading causes of child death, to long-acting HIV prevention methods, to novel mosquito control methods that could accelerate the eradication of malaria. But the investment that generated the most excitement and enthusiasm from our advisers wasn’t a specific medical product.

It was the foundation’s commitment to work with the NIH, the Wellcome Trustand other major R&D funders to accelerate open access to the research we fundand the data on which that research is based. I was humbled when several members of our SAC — some of the most respected figures in medicine today — said that our collective commitment to fostering open access to published research, open data-sharing, and ultimately open research collaboration could be the single most important innovation that our organizations are remembered for a century from now.

That’s why I’m excited to announce that the foundation’s next step toward open access publication — Gates Open Research — is officially open for business. Today, the portal published 10 articles by foundation grantees across many product development and delivery issues, which will now undergo transparent post-publication peer review. They include new contributions to our understanding of HIV, TB, malaria, sanitation, and routine immunization, and Gates Open Research will ultimately serve as an archive for research funded by each of our divisions — Global Development, Global Growth & Opportunity, Global Health, Global Policy & Advocacy, and U.S. Programs.

We have made a commitment to ensuring the rapid peer review, publication and dissemination of research that our grant-making has generated. And by requiring the publication of all supporting data, we are committed to facilitating reproducibility and transparency while enabling other researchers to reanalyze and reuse data in ways that can break down research silos, increase collaboration and efficiency, and facilitate complex meta-analysis of some of the biggest questions in health, medicine, development and education.

It is my hope that Gates Open Research, together with the launch of the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute in 2018, will help forge new approaches to scientific collaboration that can overcome the challenges of a 17th-century research-sharing model and adapt that model to the urgent issues of 21st-century medicine. I also believe that open access, open data and open science will be critical to preparing the world for the next great pandemic.

I’m excited by the quality of submissions to date, and I’m eager to see Gates Open Research match the performance of Wellcome Open Research, which launched just under a year ago. Whereas it often takes six months to a year for peer-reviewed scientific results to be published in leading journals, the Wellcome publication platform has succeeded in compressing the process of publication, peer review, and indexing to PubMed to just 31 days.

Although we are making tremendous progress against the leading causes of death and disability around the world, we must remain mindful that more than 10 children under the age of five continue to die from preventable causes every minute of every day. We have no time to lose, and I firmly believe we can change the world by changing the way we work together to tackle the world’s greatest health challenges.