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JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are teaming up to fund development of health-improvement technologies. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are teaming up to fund development of health-improvement technologies. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

philanthropy

Billionaires team up to fight disease in developing world Add to ...

A multinational bank joining forces with a charity dedicated to eradicating poverty and disease in the developing world might seem like an unlikely partnership.

But Monday’s announcement that JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are teaming up to fund development of late-stage technologies designed to fight disease in poor countries reflects a growing trend.

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Public-private partnerships are increasingly the norm when it comes to tackling vexing global health challenges. The model helps funnel desperately needed funds into research and development of drugs, vaccines and other technologies – areas that some aid organizations say are often underserved by drug companies because they don’t have significant profit potential.

At an event in New York on Monday, JPMorgan Chase and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation officially launched the Global Health Investment Fund, a $94-million (U.S.) initiative that will fund promising technologies that are likely to make it to market. Grand Challenges Canada, a federally funded organization focused on global health, is one of the key investors in the fund, contributing $10-million.

Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges, likened the initiative to a venture capital fund that will dole out money to research organizations, drug companies or biotechnology firms that have promising developments in the pipeline. The aim is to help prevent the millions of deaths that occur around the world each year – while generating a profit for investors.

One of the key aspects of the fund is that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency will partly offset any losses, mitigating the risk for potential investors.

“I think it’s responding to the fact that there is not enough financing to help some of these technologies cross the finish line,” Mr. Singer said in an interview Monday. “We all have a joint responsibility to make sure that that happens.” Mr. Singer added that a charitable oversight committee will be put in place to ensure funding will go toward initiatives that will benefit the population.

The World Health Organization says that public-private partnerships provide an opportunity to get much-needed funds into important public health initiatives, but warns that it’s an area rife with potential conflict. For instance, countries may be excluded if they are too poor or have inadequate infrastructure.

An article last November in the Harvard College Global Health Review called public-private partnerships for health a “double-edged sword.” Combining well-meaning aid groups with private interests can generate massive amounts of money quickly, leading to important developments that can save lives. But it can also mean that funds go primarily toward new technologies that may earn a return on investment instead of on programs that can address the underlying causes of disease in a country or provide important front-line aid.

In the article, William Hsiao, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said: “These countries need money, so the donors can help fulfill this very important role. But that money may not be used very effectively.”

However, Mr. Singer highlighted the mandate to find innovative ways to improve health globally. “The primary purpose here is to save and improve lives,” he said.

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