October 4, Washington, DC: The Grand Challenges Annual Meeting 2017, that brings together funding and research partners, is underway in Washington DC and concludes today. Speakers at the opening plenary session included acclaimed voices from the global health community like the Directors of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (USA) and the Wellcome Trust (UK), among others. Later in the day, global opinion leaders Bill Gates, Co-chair and Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Rex W. Tillerson, United States Secretary of State will deliver the keynote addresses at the closing plenary session of this high-level meeting. The Indian Government’s Department of Biotechnology continues to be an important partner in this effort. The Funders’ Forum, which preceded the start of the annual meeting, underscored the importance of the Government of India’s role as an innovation-investor and the value that its pool of scientific and entrepreneurial talent can bring to the global network.
The Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems, and has awarded over USD 1 billion through 2,000 grants across 87 countries. The Annual Meeting focused on current priorities and future trends for scientific research and innovation that endeavour to address some of the most complex and urgent global health and human development challenges of today.
The Indian chapter, Grand Challenges India, was born out of a unique partnership between the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote scientific and technological advances, which aim to find solutions to key health and development challenges through research and innovation, by funding Indian researchers. The programme, launched in 2013, is housed in the Biotechnology Industrial Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) and is managed by the Project Management Unit.
Dr. Renu Swarup, Senior Advisor, DBT and Managing Director, BIRAC said, “The Government of India through DBT has partnered with many countries to address societal needs like better agriculture practices, improved child health, clean energy, and sanitation. Grand Challenges India exemplifies the government’s focus on creating an ecosystem that nurtures and encourages innovation to make real and measurable changes to issues most relevant to our society. Through this partnership, we are able to tap in to the best and brightest minds and highest levels of expertise to ideate and collaborate with, as well as mentor our innovators.”
Through the Grand Challenges India programme, Indian innovators have received over USD 12 million in funding to identify needs and find solutions that relate to improving agricultural practices, nutrition and the well-being of mothers and children. The Annual Meeting featured a few of the Indian innovators’ projects including: A novel approach to reduce zinc malnutrition in rural woman and children through agronomic bio-fortification of food crops by Amity University, Noida, Uttar Pradesh;a community-level implementation of Domestic Solar Conduction Dryer (SCD) by Society for Science (S4S), as a low-cost method by which food produce can be dehydrated and stored for up to a year, thereby prolonging the shelf life of seasonal produce ensuring economic security to participating women farmers; and a bio-repository and imaging data bank project of the Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI), which analyses data to accelerate generation of evidence and promote our understanding of what makes children thrive.
“Grand Challenges India is driven by the zest to improve the quality and dignity of human life. We are looking at some of the biggest challenges and generating evidence-based solutions to enhance our health programmes and policies. The programme doesn’t restrict itself to the role of funding, but more importantly mentors innovators and connects them with necessary infrastructure. Our model is to farm innovation, and within these, hunt for the most comprehensive and effective solutions to a problem. Grand Challenges India seeks to build innovation in India, for India and beyond,” said Dr. Shirshendu Mukherjee, Mission Director, PMU-BIRAC.
Grand Challenges India funded nearly 20 projects across four programs in a period of five years and will continue to expand its priority areas through its future calls for grant and seed funding that give Indian innovators’ ideas the springboard they need to effect change in the world. During the three-day conference, the Indian delegation conducted a series of successful meetings with funding agencies and partners from around the world in its efforts to identify new areas of cooperation and to expand its partnership network. Apart from the focus on and discussions around existing priority areas, on the final day of the meeting, Grand Challenges India will co-host a discussion on the health challenge of international concern, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), where the Grand Challenges programmes will convene to discuss country-level research agendas, potential synergies and avenues for collaboration.