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Announcement to Awards: A History of the Grand Challenges

January 2003: Announcing the initiative

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bill Gates announces the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative.


  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in partnership with the National Institutes of Health launches the initiative with a $200 million grant to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH).
  • The goal is to fund research that promises to greatly advance work against diseases that disproportionately affect people in the developing world.
  • The initiative's scientific board is charged with identifying specific scientific or technological innovations that are likely to:
    • Have a global impact
    • Show high potential for feasibility
    • Potentially remove a critical barrier to solving health problems.

May 2003: Requesting ideas

Using widespread advertising and announcements, the scientific board asks international health researchers for their ideas on innovations that could radically change global health for the better. By the submission deadline in July the board receives more than 1,000 suggestions from scientists around the world.

October 2003: Announcing the selected Grand Challenges in Global Health

In the journal Science, representatives of the scientific board announce 14 Grand Challenges in Global Health and solicit proposals from scientists interested in working on their solution.

"These are all very significant and difficult scientific problems," says Nobel laureate Dr. Harold Varmus, chairman of the initiative's scientific board. "If we could solve any one of these grand challenges, the impact on health in the developing world could be dramatic, and we hope to solve several in the course of this new initiative."

August 2004: Evaluating proposals from around the globe

At the deadline for proposals, the initiative has received and reviewed more than 1,500 letters of intent from researchers in 75 countries. This resulted in more than 405 invited full proposals.

Review process:

  • Seven peer review panels consisting of more than 150 technical experts evaluate the proposals on their likelihood of solving the Grand Challenges. These panels take into account each research team’s:
    • Technical approach
    • Qualifications and management
  • Taking the panels’ comments, the Executive Committee of the scientific board as well as staff members from FNIH and BMGF review the projects and recommend proposals to move forward into negotiations for awards.

May 2005: Bringing initiative funding to $450 million

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announce the addition of $250 million to fund research under the auspices of Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative.


  • The addition brings the foundation's commitment to $450 million.
  • Bill Gates says BMGF doubled its funding in order to support more of the high-quality research proposals the initiative has received.

June 2005: Announcing initiative grant offers

The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative announces grant offers to 43 projects. The initiative attracts international partners.

  • The Wellcome Trust of the United Kingdom supports the initiative with a gift of $27.1 million.
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) offers $4.5 million in support.

Today: Working toward breakthrough advances in global health.

Managed by the global health experts at the Foundation for NIH, the BMGF, the CIHR, and the Wellcome Trust, the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative supports 44 separate research projects. Researchers around the globe are actively working on these promising projects. By helping to solve one of the 14 Grand Challenges, their work could yield breakthrough advances in global health with the potential to improve the lives of millions of people in the developing world.

Great ideas come from everywhere.

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View the Grand Challenges partnership network

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges partnership network. Visit grandchallenges.org to view the map of awarded grants across this network and grant opportunities from partners.