Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates predicted on Mar. 18, 2020 that the first licensed coronavirus vaccines for COVID-19 will be available within 18 months and that health care workers will be among the first to get the shots. Gates co-chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently invested $50 million to develop a vaccine to prevent infections caused by a mutated coronavirus (COVID-19).1 2 3 4 Recently, Gates stated:
There are over six different efforts going on to make a vaccine. Some use a new approach called RNA which is unproven. We will have to build lots of manufacturing for the different approaches knowing that some of them will not work. We will need literally billions of vaccines to protect the world. Vaccines require testing to make sure they are safe and effective. Some vaccines like the flu don’t for the elderly. The first vaccines we get will go to health care workers and critical workers. This could happen before 18 months if everything goes well but we and [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony] Fauci and others are being careful not to promise this when we are not sure. The work is going at full speed.4
Three of the main programs to develop vaccines against COVID-19 are being led by biotechnology firms Moderna, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH); CureVac AG of Tübingen, Germany, and BioNTec AG of Mainz, Germany. According to Forbes, BioNTec announced on Mar. 16 that it was partnering on the COVID-19 vaccine effort with Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., Ltd. of Shanghai, China to develop a coronavirus vaccine. On Mar. 17, BioNTec reportedly signed a letter of intent with Pfizer, Inc. of New York, NY to also collaborate on the vaccine.6
Moderna-NIH mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine In Human Trials
The COVID-19 experimental vaccine being co-developed by Moderna with NIH is code-named mRNA-1273. The company is skipping traditional animal trials that usually precede testing on humans and began human clinical trials of mRNA-1273 vaccine on Mar. 16 at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. The vaccine will be tested on 45 human subjects and the two first participants to be injected with the mRNA-1273 are Jennifer Haller, 43 and Neal Browning, 46.7 8 BioNTec is expected to begin human trials of its vaccine by the end of April.9
Gates Invests $52M in CureVac mRNA Coronavirus Vaccine
CureVac, which has been working on an mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine since 2011, plans to begin human trials of its experimental vaccine in June.9 The company’s mRNA technology work has received financial support from the U.S. Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA).10 In 2015, the Gates Foundation invested $52 million in CureVac’s mRNA vaccine program. “If we can teach the body to create its own natural defenses, we can revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases,” said Bill Gates. “Technologies like mRNA give us confidence to place big bets for the future. We are pleased to partner with CureVac who has been pioneering this technology.”11
In addition to its $52 million investment in CureVac, the Gates Foundation took a four percent equity stake in the German company.12 In a 2017 article in The Vaccine Reaction citing the Gates Foundation’s equity stake in CureVac, managing editor Marco Cáceres noted, “The Gates Foundation provides billions of dollars in grant money each year… But the Gates Foundation also invests in businesses whose primary goal is profit.”
As with any investor or shareholder, the Gates Foundation expects a financial return on its investments. There is nothing inherently wrong or illegal about this. The problem comes when there is some question about the driving force behind how a powerful and influential philanthropic foundation like Gates spends its money. Is the Gates Foundation’s allegiance weighted more toward altruism and humanitarian causes or making profits?12
On Mar. 17, 2020, The Nation published an in-depth investigative report “Bill Gates Charity Paradox” critiquing the Gates Foundation’s $50 billion charitable enterprise.13 Like past journalistic investigations into the impact that Gates’ philanthropic donations have on economic, educational and public health policy in the U.S. and globally,14 15 The Nation journalists found significant financial ties between the Gates Foundation and for-profit corporations, including vaccine manufacturers GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Sanofi, and Novartis, as well as global communications networks like NBC Universal Media.
Through an investigation of more than 19,000 charitable grants the Gates Foundation has made over the last two decades, The Nation has uncovered close to $2 billion in tax-deductible charitable donations to private companies—including some of the largest businesses in the world, such as GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever, IBM, and NBC Universal Media.
The Nation found close to $250 million in charitable grants from the Gates Foundation to companies in which the foundation holds corporate stocks and bonds: Merck, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Vodafone, Sanofi, Ericsson, LG, Medtronic, Teva, and numerous start-ups—with the grants directed at projects like developing new drugs and health monitoring systems and creating mobile banking services.
Bill Gates’s outsize charitable giving—$36 billion to date—has created a blinding halo effect around his philanthropic work, as many of the institutions best placed to scrutinize his foundation are now funded by Gates, including academic think tanks that churn out uncritical reviews of its charitable efforts and news outlets that praise its giving or pass on investigating its influence… Gates, who routinely appears on the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people, has proved that philanthropy can buy political influence.
Other Companies Developing Experimental COVID-19 Vaccines
Other companies working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine include Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. of Tarrytown, New York and Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.
Inovio’s experimental vaccine for COVID-19 is code-named INO-4800. The company plans to begin human trials of the vaccine in April.
Regeneron’s experimental vaccine is code-named REGN3048-3051. The company is aiming to start human trials this summer.7
1 Herper M. $125M effort to find coronavirus drugs started by Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard. STAT Mar. 10, 2020.
2 Klar R. Gates Foundation, other charities pledge $125 million to find coronavirus antidote. The Hill Mar. 10, 2020.
3 Lerma M. Bill Gates Is Donating $50 Million to Speed Up the Development of a Coronavirus Treatment. Robb Report Mar. 11, 2020.
4 Dodge B. Bill Gates says healthcare workers may get a coronavirus shot within 18 months as scientists race to develop a vaccine. Business Insider Mar. 18, 2019.
5 Gates B. 31 questions and answers about COVID-19. GatesNotes Mar. 19, 2020.
6 Orosz M. German Billionaire Twins’ Investment In Biotech Firm Surges After Deal With Pfizer On Coronavirus Vaccine. Forbes Mar. 18, 2020.
7 Siegel ER. Here are 3 drugs in development to fight coronavirus, 2 vaccines and one ‘passive’ vaccine. NBC News Mar. 19, 2020.
8 Neergaard L, Johnson CK. AP Exclusive: Coronavirus vaccine test opens with 1st doses. Associated Press Mar. 16, 2020.
9 Franjkovic T. Remember These Names: Moderna, BioNTech, CureVac and Keep an Eye on Their Vaccine Progress. Coinspeaker Mar. 17, 2020.
10 Press Release. CureVac CEO Daniel Menichella Discusses Coronavirus Vaccine Development with U.S. President Donald Trump and Members of Coronavirus Task Force. CureVac Mar. 3, 2020.
11 Press Release. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and CureVac Collaborate to Accelerate the Development of Transformative Vaccine Technology Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Mar. 5, 2015.
12 Cáceres M. Gates Foundation Invests in for-Profit Ventures. The Vaccine Reaction Oct. 12, 2017.
13 Schwab T. Bill Gate’s Charity Paradox. The Nation Mar. 17, 2020.
14 Martens J, Seitz K. Philanthropic Power and Development: Who Shapes the Agenda? Global Policy Forum November 2015.
15 Fisher, BL. WHO, Pharma, Gates & Government: Who Calls the Shots? NVIC Newsletter Jan. 27, 2019.