Fueled by massive economic growth, China has invested heavily in nearly all corners of its society, from infrastructure to education to politics. China's contributions to science and innovation are no exception; just as China has added high speed rail and world-class architecture to its efforts to build its society, it too has invested in its scientific capacity. For example, the budget for the Chinese government's basic science funding agency – the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) – has grown 20% per year since 2007. While much of this work has been to build its institutions and train its people as a means to empower its industries and drive its economy, China has also invested in innovation to better the lives of poorer people, including rural farmers and those suffering from neglected diseases. Indeed, a fitting example is Youyou Tu's sharing in this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of artemisinin, an anti-malarial drug that is currently distributed to over 190 million people annually.
The ever-increasing influence and capability of China in the world of innovation was a major motivation to hold our annual Grand Challenges Meeting in Beijing this year. This year's meeting included sessions ranging from Global Mental Health to All Children Thriving, from Accessible Mechanization for Smallholder Farmers to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and from Translational Vaccinology to Global Health Therapeutics. In each of these Chinese scientists presented alongside others in a milieu of collaboration and dialog, all towards the applied end of discovering new knowledge and creating new interventions to reduce the burden of disease and ensure all children have the chance to lead a healthy and productive life. And we hope to further unlock China's innovative capacity and spirit towards these goals. As the BMGF CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman said in her closing keynote:
For all the amazing progress the world has made in global health over the past two or three decades, we need to step up the pace of investment and innovation if we are going to meet the Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the United Nations. I'm talking specifically about SDG 3, which calls for ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases by 2030. That's ambitious - which is great. But if we're going to get there - and if we're going to close the health gap between poor and wealthy nations - we need to speed the innovation cycle; generate good ideas more quickly; and turn those ideas into products more efficiently. To do all of this, the world needs China.
Grand Challenges China: New Interventions for Global Health, announced in Beijing, is a commitment by both the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and the NSFC to further harness Chinese innovation to help the world's poorest. Through this request for proposals, the BMGF and NSFC will co-fund awards of up to US$1M and 4 years for collaborations between Chinese and international investigators. Through these investments we hope to deliver safe, affordable, and widely-used interventions – be they vaccines or drugs – for the cure or prevention of communicable diseases in resource limited settings.
Grand Challenges China is the latest addition to the Grand Challenges team, an international cadre of government and private funders investing in innovation not for innovation's sake, but rather to solve the greatest challenges facing our civilization. So if you are a Chinese immunologist, now is the time to start up that collaboration with the Belgian biotech company that you have been wanting to do. If you are a Ugandan chemist, now is the time to contact that Chinese pharmaceutical company to set up that novel screen you have been dreaming of.
The application period will open in early 2016, and will require substantive collaborations between Chinese and international researchers, be they in academia, non-profits, or industry. We look forward to seeing what teams will be made, and what disruptive and innovative ideas they will bring!
Update 3 February 2016: The Grand Challenges China: New Interventions for Global Health funding opportunity has officially opened. Please see the Gates Foundation or NSFC (Chinese) landing pages to apply.