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Health Breakthrough Research Group Doubles Funding

Growing money

(Nattanan Kanchanaprat, Pixabay)

2 Feb. 2022. A not-for-profit organization that sponsors accelerated and high-impact health research worldwide says it gained a new $335 million in funding. Wellcome Leap in Los Angeles says the new funds more than double its original stake of $300 million, when it began operations in 2020.

Wellcome Leap, founded by the British medical research foundation Wellcome Trust, aims to create a model for faster design and development of health breakthroughs, to speed much needed medical discoveries from initial concept through delivery. Wellcome Leap is modeled on the work of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, that funds ground-breaking discoveries in military-related technologies. But Darpa also brings together key stakeholders and clears away obstacles at the outset to often achieve those breakthroughs in record time.

The group says with that model, its projects bring together basic science with engineering on an accelerated timeline. To speed the start of its work, Wellcome Leap established a worldwide network of institutions committed to using a common master academic research funding agreement, provides all terms and conditions that normally accompany funding documents. Those common provisions include intellectual property, ownership, and publication, agreed upon by 70 academic labs and research centers representing more than 650,000 researchers. Negotiating these terms separately, says Wellcome Leap, can add months to the start of the actual work.

Wellcome Leap has five research initiatives underway. Science & Enterprise reported on its RNA readiness and response, or R3, project that began in July 2021, R3 is a $60 million challenge competition seeking to build a distributed network of facilities to design, develop, and manufacture RNA-based biologic products. The competition, co-sponsored by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations or CEPI, uses the semiconductor industry as a model, to encourage more standardized design and production processes, and reduce the reliance on proprietary methods.

Cognitive development in a child’s first 1,000 days

The Multi-Channel Psych project, begun in June 2021, is a $50 million challenge competition, also reported by Science & Enterprise. The initiative seeks reliable biological methods for detecting depression and decision models that connect diagnostics to effective disease treatments. According to Wellcome Leap, current methods for diagnosing and treating depression are at best haphazard with limited results. The challenge seeks more detailed and evidence-based models to connect depression treatments to the patient’s biology. Multi-Channel Psych likewise calls for end-to-end decision models connecting depression diagnostics to treatments.

Other research initiatives underway seek a technology platform to quantitatively profile the state of human tissue and predict changes in that tissue condition. Another project is developing a process and models for measuring cognitive development, particularly executive function and self-regulation, in a child’s first 1,000 days. A separate initiative is designing a technology platform to simulate human organ functions that replaces animal testing in preclinical research. Part of that project aims to extend the technology into restoring organ functions or developing hybrid-synthetic systems to extend failing human organs.

“The last two years,” says CEO Regina Dugan in a Wellcome Leap statement, “have laid bare how much work we have to do in health, equity, and care for the planet. Dugan adds, “We need more breakthroughs to solve the urgent challenges facing the world. And we need them faster.”

Wellcome Leap does not disclose sources of the new $335 million funding. However, Wellcome Trust in January announced plans to raise its charitable spending by £16 billion ($US 21.7 billion) over the next decade, including £750 million ($US 1.02 billion) for large-scale, high-impact projects in the next five years.

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