Dr. Beaudet’s remarks: Grand Challenges

Seattle, October 7, 2014

It is a great privilege to be part of today’s panel.

I would first like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Gates for their vision, leadership and determination in making Grand Challenges the success that it has become.

As you will recall, it was in 2003, in Davos, Switzerland, when Mr. Gates first announced a $200 million dollar medical research initiative – the Grand Challenges in Global Health.

The idea was simple, powerful and potentially extremely impactful. With the launch of Grand Challenges, the Gates Foundation has dramatically raised awareness of global health issues and has played a significant role in convincing policy-makers about the value of research and innovation in finding solutions to these issues.

Your drive, your commitment, and the scope of investment were simply too big to be ignored.

You understood that if clear objectives were defined, bold new ideas and talent could be drawn upon to apply science and technology to resolve some of the toughest health challenges in the developing world.

However, back in 2003, I doubt that you would have anticipated the lasting impact that the Grand Challenges model has had on health research at large.

Speaking as President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and as a Board member of Grand Challenges Canada, I can attest to the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges initiative induced a remarkable cultural shift in the way that funding agencies collaborate, establish priorities, evaluate research applications, and work with the private sector.

I am proud that the Government of Canada supported the Grand Challenges initiative from its very beginning, and it was in fact represented on its original scientific advisory board.

Over the years, it contributed, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), to the co-funding of projects involving Canadian investigators. But most importantly it gave rise, in 2008, to the creation of Grand Challenges Canada (GCC).

Grand Challenges Canada was established, thanks largely to the efforts of Canadian philanthropist Joseph (Joe) Rotman, out of a $225 million Health Development Innovation Fund created by the Government of Canada.

Like its sister organization in the USA, the aim of Grand Challenges Canada is to support breakthrough research that addresses critical global health problems in order to bring lasting improvements to the health and lives of people in poor countries.

In the short time since it was launched, GCC has signed agreements totaling 148 million dollars and funded 538 projects in more than 70 countries. These investments are already having an impact: 1.2M beneficiaries have accessed innovative products or services supported through GCC, with thousands of lives saved and tens of thousands of lives improved.

Grand Challenges Canada has received strong support from Canada’s political leaders. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s wife, Mrs. Laureen Harper is the honourary Chair of the Saving Brains Initiative.

The Saving Brains initiative is a partnership between GCC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, the Norlien Foundation and World Vision Canada.

It is designed to help developing world children reach their full cognitive potential. It is estimated that over 200 million of children a year fail to reach full brain development because of risk factors that include malnutrition, infection, unhealthy pregnancy and birth complications.

With the announcement of additional funding today, the Saving Brains initiative since its launch in 2011 has funded 72 reserach projects for a total of $32 million.

Saving Brains is very much in line with Prime Minister Harper’s flagship development priority: Maternal, newborn and child health.

So is another major global health research initiative that I am very proud to have been involved with, the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa initiative. Co-funded by CIHR, the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, this $36 million initiative will support joint Canadian and African implementation research teams to collectively identify the most effective ways to strengthen access and delivery of quality primary health care services in nine sub-Saharan African countries.

This initiative owes much to the Grand Challenges approach in that it identified a major health issue in the developing world and focusses on developing practical solutions to address it. Furthermore, it is centered in countries in which Canada has ongoing health development programs, so that successful interventions can be scaled up.

This initiative also illustrates the transformative impact that
Grand Challenges has had on the culture of collaboration among Canadian Agencies in the field of Global Health Research.

Other examples include the partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CIHR, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to support the HIV-AIDS vaccine initiative.

They also include the partnership between GCC, CIHR and IDRC in support of intervention research initiatives on hypertension and diabetes, within the framework of the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD), a conglomerate of health research funding bodies.

Innovation is key for the economic growth and improved health and quality of life of developing nations. But innovations developed in low and middle income countries can also offer solutions in high-income country settings, It is critical that we explore ways to better exploit such reverse innovation (or now more commonly referred to as reciprocal learning) in developed countries, particularly for vulnerable populations, who often present health challenges akin to those of the developing world.

As we are entering the next phase of Grand Challenges, I believe it is important to build on past successes and lessons learned.

Two factors are known to be critical for innovation to flourish: multidisciplinarity and multiculturalism. Hence the importance of bringing together teams of researches coming from different horizons and with different expertise.

I am convinced that solutions to health issues in low and middle income countries will ultimately come from the unique cultural perspective they themselves will bring to them. Hence the critical importance of building research capacity within LMICs, and of integrating different models of knowledge and knowledge translation to our western way of thinking.

Finally, innovation is as good as the extent to which it can be implemented. Which is why I believe that we should be paying considerably more attention to the new field of research that is implementation science, and that we should make every effort to integrate from the get go the research users and decision makers into the framing of the research agenda.

Mr. and Mrs. Gates articulated for us a pathway we couldn’t ignore, a challenge that we had to accept, and a model that has proved remarkably effective.

Canada has gained tremendously from following their lead. However, if we are to ensure that our commitments result in long lasting success, we need to continue seeking new opportunities; leverage new collaborations; and support bold new ideas without fear of failure.

For we are resolutely committed to the vision that there can be no such thing as good health unless there is good health for all.

Thank you.

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