The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced $7.7 million in funding for 10 new grants to identify biomarkers for diagnosing tuberculosis (TB) in low-resource settings. This new grant program, Biomarkers for the Diagnosis of Tuberculosis, supports innovative research into TB biomarkers to facilitate the development of a low-cost, simple-to-use tool that can quickly and accurately diagnose TB in developing countries.
The biomarkers program is part of the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health (GCGH) initiative, which seeks to overcome persistent bottlenecks in creating new tools that can radically improve health in the developing world. The Gates Foundation is partnering on this program with the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), which will help monitor the grant portfolio and supply clinical TB samples from developing countries, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research(CIHR), which is co-funding one of the grants.
While in the U.S. and Europe TB is often thought of as a disease of the past, 8.8 million people are newly ill with the disease every year—many of them in the world’s poorest countries. Diagnosis of TB currently relies upon laboratory-based technology, which fails to diagnose a significant portion of active TB cases or requires weeks to do so and misses patients without access to these facilities. This TB biomarker program is part of a broader effort to catalyze innovation in TB control, including the development of new TB drug regimens and vaccines.
“There is an urgent need to break through barriers in biomarker research in order to develop a highly-sensitive point-of-care diagnostic to improve identification of active TB cases,” said Chris Wilson, Director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We hope these innovative ideas lead to effective and affordable TB diagnostics that can make an impact on one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.”
Examples of projects receiving funding:
- Todd L. Lowary of the University of Alberta in Canada, with funding from CIHR and the Gates Foundation, will develop a library of chemically synthesized antigens found on TB cells and prepare a microarray of them to screen for antibodies that signal the presence of active TB.
- Antonio Campos-Neto of Forsyth Institute in Cambridge, MA, will work with collaborators at Quanterix Corporation and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to validate biomarkers in urine with the potential for development into a simple and inexpensive TB diagnostic similar to a home pregnancy test.
- Karen Dobos of Colorado State University, along with collaborators at the University of Notre Dame and the University of California at San Francisco, will work to develop methods for diagnosing TB that take advantage of naturally occurring exosomes from infected host cells. The methods will be applied to both blood and urine samples.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: US$7.3 million Canadian Institutes of Health Research (co-funder of one grant): US$374,493
Grand Challenges The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that solving our greatest global health and development issues is a long-term effort. Through the Grand Challenges family of grant programs, the foundation is committed to seeking out and rewarding not only established researchers in science and technology, but also young investigators, entrepreneurs and innovators to help expand the pipeline of ideas to fight diseases that claim millions of lives each year. We anticipate that additional grants will be awarded through the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative in the future.