💉 Gates Foundation expands budgets, WHO seeks funding; AlphaMind comes of age
#500 | Welcome back to The Kable
Hello, and welcome back to The Kable for our landmark 500th edition and our first edition of 2024! Since we kicked off in January 2022, The Kable has kept pace with the kinetic, ever-evolving landscape of the life sciences industries, cataloguing the important stories of the day. Our updates have focused on traditionally underserved geographies, including Africa, South America, and MENA, whose moment in the life sciences spotlight is long overdue. In 2024, our one-a-week edition sent out on Friday integrates the One Health approach into our coverage with thoughtful intent. We will continue exploring the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health, giving you a nuanced and comprehensive perspective on global health challenges. On this anniversary edition, we reiterate our promise to be your trusted source of
global news with the potential to advance health equity, shape opinion, or inform business decisions, and
regional stories with the ability to transform life sciences, shape the global discourse or impact the world at large.
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And now, onwards and upwards, with this week's dispatch.
Story of the week
Wellness in the time of cholera. Countries in Southern Africa - Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - are currently grappling with a severe cholera outbreak, as reported by Oxfam. This health crisis is exacerbated by the concurrent rise in COVID-19 cases and the arrival of the rainy season, posing a significant challenge to the region's already strained health systems. The situation is dire, with Zambia reporting nearly 3,500 new cases and 124 deaths in just the last week and Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi facing similar surges in cases and fatalities. These countries struggle with inadequate access to clean water and sanitation, crucial in preventing cholera's spread. Oxfam's response includes distributing hygiene kits and improving access to clean water, but the agency urgently requires an additional $3 million to effectively scale up its efforts. The situation is critical, with a pronounced information gap and lack of resources severely hindering the fight against this escalating health emergency.
Healing global crises. The WHO has announced a significant funding appeal for US$ 1.5 billion to support health-related emergency responses in 41 critical situations worldwide in 2024. This funding aims to assist over 87 million people affected by various complex emergencies, including conflicts, climate change, and economic instability, which exacerbate issues like displacement, hunger, and inequality. The appeal, emphasized by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, highlights the crucial role of health services in life-and-death situations, such as childbirth during conflict, drought-related crises, and chronic disease management. The proposed funding will enhance life-saving healthcare and ensure the continuity of essential services, particularly in hard-to-reach areas, while also focusing on outbreak monitoring, protection of health workers, and strengthening healthcare systems. Significantly, the investment is expected to yield a high return, with every US$ 1 resulting in at least US$ 35 in benefits. The allocation of funds is planned across various global regions, with specific amounts designated for each. Dr. Tedros underscored the importance of donor support in saving lives, addressing critical health needs, and bolstering community resilience against future health threats.
Opening the Gates wider. Speaking of global health crises, earlier this week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced its largest annual budget of $8.6 billion for 2024, aiming to combat global health challenges, particularly in low-income communities. This budget marks a 4% increase from the previous year and a $2 billion rise since 2021, responding to the decline in global health funding, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The foundation plans to increase its annual spending to $9 billion by 2026. Focusing on life-saving health innovations, this year's budget will support newborns and pregnant mothers and combat preventable diseases and maternal deaths. This budget is a step towards the foundation's goal of providing opportunities and saving lives in the poorest communities, spanning various priorities from polio eradication to TB drug development.
Psychedelic science's AI revolution. Researchers have leveraged AlphaFold, an AI tool by DeepMind, to discover hundreds of thousands of new psychedelic molecules, potentially aiding in developing novel antidepressants. This marks the first time AlphaFold's protein-structure predictions have been proven as valuable for drug discovery as traditional, more time-consuming experimental methods. Despite initial scepticism, AlphaFold has demonstrated its effectiveness in identifying promising drug candidates, with studies showing comparable hit rates between AlphaFold-predicted structures and experimentally derived structures. This approach has successfully identified potential drugs for G-protein-coupled receptors, a key target class. While not a universal solution and requiring further experimental validation in some cases, AlphaFold's ability to rapidly predict protein structures could significantly accelerate drug discovery projects. Isomorphic Labs, a DeepMind spin-off, is already leveraging AlphaFold for drug discovery in deals with pharmaceutical giants, highlighting the growing confidence in this AI-driven approach to tackling health challenges.
Hospital pneumonia's antibiotic puzzle. Researchers at the University of Liverpool have made a significant stride in understanding antimicrobial resistance (AMR), particularly in hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP). They developed a new animal model to study HAP and test meropenem, a common antibiotic used for this condition. Their research revealed that lower doses of meropenem while treating HAP lead to increased resistance. However, higher doses or combining meropenem with another antibiotic, amikacin, can reduce this resistance. This study not only provides insights into preventing resistance in HAP treatment but also offers a new experimental platform for evaluating both existing and new antibiotics for their potential to cause resistance. This platform is expected to enhance antibiotic use and mitigate resistance development, contributing to global efforts against AMR.
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