The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently partnered on a multi-million-dollar effort to identify pandemic-causing pathogens.
The two groups announced a collaborative $2 million project to fund “researchers who are investigating and detecting novel and emerging pathogens with applications in human health, zoonosis, vector-borne diseases, and antimicrobial resistance.”
”These grants build on an existing partnership […] which is focused on building metagenomics capacity in high-potential countries that have been historically under-resourced,” continues a press release announcing the joint venture.
The work follows controversy over an American non-profit, EcoHealth Alliance, partnering with foreign labs controlled by the Chinese Communist Party to conduct research on bat coronaviruses. Akin to the stated purposes of the Zuckerberg and Gates-backed effort, the research was carried out in the name of “pandemic prevention.”
The grants, which will be awarded in increments of $200,000, will reportedly focus on the use of Metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS).
“mNGS can be used to detect novel pathogens in outbreaks and investigate diseases with complex etiology,” explains the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
The new initiative also seeks to boost scientific research efforts in “low- to middle-income countries (LMICs),” as they “often lack access to the tools, resources, and technologies they need to investigate and detect novel and emerging pathogens,” according to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Gates Foundation.
“The pandemic revealed the importance of effective, integrated disease surveillance for countries to rapidly detect and respond to outbreaks,” said David Blazes, Deputy Director of Genomic Epidemiology and Modeling at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Yet too many communities, particularly those in low-resource settings, don’t have the capacity to take advantage of innovative technologies like genomic sequencing. We are pleased to support this inspiring group of researchers from around the world as they work to detect, identify, and characterize deadly pathogens to protect their people and prevent future pandemics.”
In practice, the strategy of outsourcing pandemic-focused research to foreign countries has led to dangerous pathogens ending up in facilities with lax safety regulations. The program synopsis doesn’t explicitly specify which groups will be funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gates Foundation, only noting that it will support researchers in “different regions of the world.”
The Gates Foundation, however, is known to have a long history of collaboration with China on scientific research, including funding institutions tied to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is believed to be the birthplace of COVID-19.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has also come under scrutiny for its efforts to influence the 2020 election in favor of Joe Biden.