An anonymous donor has pledged $100 million to the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health for a 10-year effort to rid the world of malaria by developing a new vaccine and drugs.
The gift -- the university's largest ever for a single purpose -- will establish the Johns Hopkins Malaria Institute. The multidisciplinary center will combine traditional approaches with new weapons such as genomics and bioinformatics to take aim at a disease that kills an estimated 1 million to 2 million people a year and leaves hundreds of millions of others sick and destitute.
"Malaria has long been a global scourge that drains the lives and finances of villages and whole countries every year, afflicting nearly half a billion people with acute disease," said Alfred Sommer, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "A child is killed by malaria every 30 seconds of every hour of every day of every year. The donor has committed a fortune -- not for personal reward, but to win a victory for mankind." "This gift is a visionary investment in the health of millions and the future of humanity, especially in the developing world," said William R. Brody, president of the university. "We are determined to make that investment pay off."
Malaria not only kills, it also impoverishes, suppressing economic growth in Africa by up to 1.3 percent a year, a study released last year by the World Health Organization said. Had malaria been eradicated 35 years ago, the study said, sub-Saharan Africa's gross domestic product now would be $100 billion, or 32 percent, larger.
But the fight against the disease is losing ground. Anti-malaria drugs are losing effectiveness as resistant strains develop around the world, according to the WHO. Eradication of parasite-carrying mosquitoes with such agents as DDT carries environmental concerns. Attempts to develop a vaccine have failed. Research is underfunded, because malaria is a relatively small problem in the developed world. Pharmaceutical companies have limited economic incentive to develop drugs aimed at a market in the developing world.
The Johns Hopkins Malaria Institute will "wipe the slate clean," Sommer said, and take a fresh look at the malaria problem with new scientific tools, such as genetic sequencing and bioinformatics, that are just being developed and applied in other areas.
"We will bring together outstanding young scientists from multiple disciplines, not necessarily malaria experts," Sommer said. "We'll teach them about malaria and put them together in a critical mass, the goal being an innovative vaccine" and other new anti-malarial drugs.
The institute will open with four lead researchers already on the faculty of the Bloomberg School, and will add three or four a year for several years, plus associated research personnel and graduate students, Sommer said. The researchers will be specialists in such fields as immunology and vaccine development; statistical analysis of genetic data and populations studies; the biology of malaria parasites and their mosquito hosts; and molecular parasitology. The institute will also establish core service centers to study the genome of the parasite and the mosquito; the proteins produced by genes in the parasite, the mosquito and humans; and what happens to cells during the life cycle of the parasite and the course of the disease.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Institute will collaborate with scientists across the United States and around the world and with WHO's "Roll Back Malaria" program, aimed at halving the disease's worldwide impact by 2010, Sommer said.
The gift funding the institute is not designated as endowment and will be spent over 10 years to maximize its impact, Sommer said. The institute is expected to attract additional funding from government and private sources, he said.
The $100 million gift matches the largest previous gift in Johns Hopkins history, the $100 million given by alumnus and news media entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg during the recent Johns Hopkins Initiative campaign. Bloomberg's gift benefitted all the university's schools. The School of Public Health, which received the largest share, was renamed last month in recognition of Bloomberg's devotion to an organization that has traditionally had difficulty attracting financial support commensurate with its impact on world health.
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