We Believe in the Power of Collaboration, So We Designed a Grant Competition to Incentivize It

Trevor Mundel
Jun 12 · 3 min read
©Gates Archive/Adam Berry

Each year, the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting convenes researchers working on some of the toughest problems in global health, and we encourage everyone to participate in the truest sense of the word. This means not just attending sessions; it means using the convening to forge new connections, explore unconventional collaborations, and envision high-risk, high-reward projects that could yield the tools and strategies we need to meet or beat the best-case scenarios for the Sustainable Development Goals.

To encourage new collaborations, we always strive to make sure that every poster session, side event, and coffee break is socially engineered to bring people from disparate disciplines and distant geographies together.

Then last year, at the opening of the 2018 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in Berlin, Germany, we took our approach a step further by launching the GC Annual Meeting Call to Action. Drawing on the model of our Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) program, we invited meeting participants to identify a major global health challenge and submit a two-page proposal describing how they would solve it. We also decided to incentivize collaborative proposals by offering $200,000 to principal investigators who agreed to team up in their pursuit of a big idea while awarding just $100,000 to principal investigators who chose to go it alone.

The results were tremendous. More than half of the 200 proposals we received were based on research collaborations forged at the meeting, and close to 80 percent of the proposals selected for funding were collaborative in structure.

Today, we’re pleased to announce the final award winners and spotlight some of the amazing ideas they will be pursuing over the next 18 months.

· Elena Levashina of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Germany and Kelly Lee of the University of Washington in the U.S. will help design better malaria vaccines by imaging the three-dimensional ultrastructure of the circumsporozoite protein (CSP) as it appears on the surface of the causative Plasmodium parasite using adapted purification and cryopreservation methods.

· Eric Ochomo of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in Kenya and Luc Djogbenou of the University of Abomey (UAC) in Benin will combat insecticide resistance in the fight against malaria by developing a curriculum to teach African scientists how to use genetic approaches to identify resistance markers in mosquitoes and ensure timely changes in insecticide applications.

· Iruka Okeke of the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and Kat Holt of Monash University in Australia will work to combat anti-microbial resistance by using nanopore sequencers in rural laboratories to monitor the spread of resistance in low-resource areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

· Ruth Müller of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium and Meghnath Dhimal of the Nepal Health Research Council will equip Nepalese health care providers to respond to outbreaks of vector-borne disease by providing medical professionals with entomological training, training on disease surveillance and control, and guidance on effective community engagement.

We’re excited to follow the outcomes of these grants and look forward to kicking off a new round of Call to Action proposals at the next Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in October.

Trevor Mundel

Written by

President of Global Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Science is my passion.