Gates Foundation funds Korean research on coronavirus

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Gates Foundation funds Korean research on coronavirus

            Bill Gates

Bill Gates

 
In an interview on The Daily Show last month, Microsoft founder Bill Gates praised Korea's efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. “Testing, forced quarantine and contact tracing” were elements that “really bent the curve,” he said of the country.
 
A month later, two Korean companies have received research and development (R&D) funding worth several million dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
Telecommunications company KT was the first to announce the achievement Sunday. It received $10 million from the foundation to be used for a three-year research project developing IT solutions to prevent epidemics using big data and artificial intelligence technology.
 
“The use of mobile technology and sensors paired with smart data analysis can help address some of the challenges countries face in timely and effective response to disease outbreaks,” said Andrew Trister, deputy director of digital health innovation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
“Knowing where a disease is moving and being able to predict spread can help save time and save lives.”
 
The project has two main focuses: developing algorithms that can help early diagnosis during an epidemic and devising a model to predict how an epidemic spreads.
 
One of the earlier goals of this three-year project is developing a mobile app through which users can self-diagnose influenza by inputting symptoms and using an internet of things (IoT) sensor that measures one’s body temperature. Accumulated data on the individual will be used to calculate the probability of a flu infection.
 
KT will also analyze telecommunication data to examine users’ moving patterns and past records of influenza to define how an infection spreads locally. The company plans to look into virus trends by region and develop forecasting models to predict seasonal outbreaks.
 
Discussions between KT and the foundation started last year, months before the Covid-19 pandemic. The company introduced its “epidemic prevention platform” at an April forum hosted by the Research Investment for Global Health Technology (Right) Fund, which caught the attention of a Gates Foundation staffer. Right is Korea’s first funding agency for health R&D, supported by the Korean government, the Gates Foundation and Korean bio companies.
 
Vaccine company SK Bioscience announced Monday that it received $3.6 million from the foundation to be used for the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. An SK Chemical subsidiary that was spun off in 2018, the company has successfully developed and is currently mass producing vaccines for the flu, shingles and chickenpox.  
 
In March, it was selected as a partner for a state-funded project to develop a Covid-19 vaccine with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That same month, SK announced it had found a candidate substance for a Covid-19 vaccine which is currently undergoing animal tests.  
 
Clinical trials on human patients will start by September at earliest.  
 
The Gates Foundation has offered R&D funding to SK Bioscience before: in 2014 for research into a vaccine for typhoid and in 2017 for a vaccine for enteritis in children. The typhoid vaccine is undergoing clinical tests while the enteritis vaccine is still under development.  
 
“Details on how the recent funding will be used will be discussed with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is currently heading global efforts to find the Covid-19 vaccine,” the company said.  
 
BY SONG KYOUNG-SON   [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]
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