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March 20, 2020

Mastercard, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Wellcome Launch Initiative to Speed Development and Access to Therapies for COVID-19.

Mastercard

Bill Gates

wellcome

SEATTLE, March 20, 2020 - Mastercard, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Wellcome have committed up to $125 million in seed funding to speed-up the response to the COVID-19 epidemic by identifying, assessing, developing, and scaling-up treatments.

Their announcement said that the three partners are committed to equitable access, including making products available and affordable in low-resource settings. The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will play a catalytic role by accelerating and evaluating new and repurposed drugs and biologics to treat patients with COVID-19 in the immediate term, and other viral pathogens in the longer-term. Currently, there are no broad-spectrum antivirals or immunotherapies available for the fight against emerging pathogens, and none approved for use on COVID-19.

The Gates Foundation and Wellcome are each contributing up to $50 million, and the Mastercard Impact Fund has committed up to $25 million to catalyze the initial work of the Accelerator. The Gates Foundation’s funding is part of its $100 million commitment to the COVID-19 response announced last month.

“Viruses like COVID-19 spread rapidly, but the development of vaccines and treatments to stop them moves slowly,” said Mark Suzman, chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “If we want to make the world safe from outbreaks like COVID-19, particularly for those most vulnerable, then we need to find a way to make research and development move faster. That requires governments, private enterprise, and philanthropic organizations to act quickly to fund R&D.”

The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will work with the World Health Organization, governments, and private sector funders and organizations, as well as the global regulatory and policy-setting institutions. The Accelerator will have an end-to-end focus, from drug pipeline development through manufacturing and scale-up. By sharing research, coordinating investments, and pooling resources, these efforts can help to accelerate research.

The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will operate jointly as an initiative of the funders, drawing on expertise from inside and outside their organizations. The Accelerator will pursue several aspects of the development cycle to streamline the pathway from candidate product to clinical assessment, use, and manufacturing. To identify candidate compounds, the Accelerator will take a three-pronged approach. In essence, testing approved drugs for activity against COVID-19, screening libraries of thousands of compounds with confirmed safety data, and considering new investigational compounds and monoclonal antibodies.

Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, said, “This virus is an unprecedented global threat and one for which we must propel international partnerships to develop treatments, rapid diagnostics, and vaccines. Science is moving at a phenomenal pace against COVID-19. But to get ahead of this epidemic, we need greater investment and research co-ordination. The Therapeutics Accelerator will allow us to do this for potential treatments with support for research, development, assessment, and manufacturing. COVID-19 is an extremely challenging virus, but we’ve proved that through collaborating across borders, we can tackle emerging infectious diseases. We must strive to strengthen efforts in the face of COVID-19, and in doing so, continue to make sure that advances are accessible and affordable to all. Investing now, at scale, at-risk, and as a collective global effort is vital if we are to change the course of this epidemic. We welcome others to join us in this effort.”

While antiviral drugs are approved to lessen the severity of seasonal flu and treat HIV, among other viral diseases, none have demonstrated efficacy against the current epidemic. One reason for the lack of effective treatments is that products may not have an immediate market, which can slow or prevent their research and commercial development. The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator would help by bringing together resources and expertise to lower the financial and technical risk for academia, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies while ensuring that these products are accessible and affordable to people in low-resource settings. The expertise of pharmaceutical companies will be critical in identifying, researching, and commercializing successful drugs.

“We’re proud to join this crucial effort to combat COVID-19 in furtherance of our commitment to inclusive growth,” said Mike Froman, vice chairman of Mastercard. “This global challenge not only represents a risk to the health and safety of populations all over the world, but also poses a potential disruption to the economic vitality of millions of people, businesses, and organizations worldwide. Our experience with financial inclusion shows us the importance of building a network of parties who bring not only their capital, but complementary assets and skillsets to the table, and we welcome other partners concerned about inclusive growth to join this effort.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, based in Seattle, Washington, USA, works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives.

The Wellcome Trust is a research-charity based in London, in the United Kingdom. It was established in 1936 with legacies from the pharmaceutical magnate Sir Henry Wellcome to fund research to improve human and animal health.

Mastercard is a global technology company in the payments industry. Its mission is to “Connect and power an inclusive, digital economy that benefits everyone, everywhere by making transactions safe, simple, smart, and accessible.” Using secure data and networks, Mastercard’s innovations and solutions help individuals, financial institutions, governments, and businesses realize their highest potential.

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