‘Grand Challenges India Meeting’ on improving public health begins at Delhi

The mission-directed research initiative was collaboratively launched in 2012 under the umbrella of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Department of Biotechnology and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


New Delhi: The Grand Challenges India (GCI) meeting was inaugurated on March 21st at New Delhi. The meeting is being hosted by Program Management Unit at BIRAC (PMU-BIRAC), jointly supported by Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and Wellcome.

The GCI is a mission-directed research initiative collaboratively launched in 2012 under the umbrella of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between DBT and BMGF. The collaboration tries to galvanize the social impact by piloting research and extension services within a series of thematic calls and other global definite initiatives to improve public health and beyond.

The meeting inaugurated by the Union Minister for Science and Technology & Earth Sciences, Dr Harsh Vardhan, was attended by a large number of senior national and international dignitaries from various fields.

Grand Challenges India BIRAC-BMGF Image 9“We are very pleased that the DBT has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to set up this very important strategic partnership which is working towards funding innovative solutions to social problems not only within India but also has a reference to the developing nations. Such partnerships brings together the strength of organizations and we are happy to note that through this partnership we have been able to address issues around healthcare, sanitation and human development including through nutrition and maternal child health bringing nearly 45 organizations working together with a joint commitment. We are also happy to note that Wellcome and USAID is supporting this significant partnership,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Science and Technology.

Grand Challenges India through PMU-BIRAC supports flagship initiatives including All Children Thriving and the Healthy Birth Growth & Development Knowledge Integration (HBGDki) focusing on addressing stunting and physical, immunological and cognitive development with a particular focus on South Asia.

GCI promotes scientific and technological advances which aim to find solutions to key health and development challenges through research and innovation, by funding Indian researchers. Under this initiative, the DBT and the Gates Foundation have pledged an investment of up to US$25 million each, over a period of 5 years. GCI has supported and funded 18 innovators and innovations so far across various areas.

Grand Challenges India BIRAC-BMGF Image 2“In the past two decades, we have witnessed major advances in science and technology which have transformed the country. As India transitions from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, we must find sustainable solutions to our issues related to health and development. Programs such as Grand Challenges India are providing innovators and researchers a fantastic platform to progress through the innovation ecosystem develop their ideas and concepts,” said Prof K VijayRaghavan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India and Chairman, BIRAC.

“The GCI partnership has ushered a new wave of innovative solutions to help address issues that are inextricably linked to social impact. The GCI covers all kinds of health and developmental priorities, ranging from maternal and child health; infectious diseases; vaccines; point-of-care diagnostics; agriculture; food and nutrition to other related arenas of developing nations as per requisite. Most importantly, this partnership signifies a convergence between Indian and global priorities and synergistic new initiatives of the government such as Swachh Bharat, Start-up India and others,” said Dr Renu Swarup, Senior Adviser, DBT and Managing Director, BIRAC.

Program Management Unit housed at BIRAC, manages the complex portfolio of managing grants. The GCI provides financial support in the form of grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts to support the advancement of the GCI mission to enhance health, extend healthy lives, and reduce the burdens of poverty.

“Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is privileged to partner with BIRAC and the Department of Biotechnology in the Grand Challenges India initiative. India is increasingly being recognized for its vast innovation potential and Grand Challenges India encourages innovative solutions and ideas to help solve important issues issues related to under-5 mortality, malnutrition, mother and child health and poverty reduction in the country,” said Dr. Nachiket Mor, Country Director, India Office, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The programs launched under GCI partnership have been shaped by experts who are luminary in their fields.

Dr Steven Buchsbaum, Deputy Director, Discovery & Translational Sciences, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said that, “ Grand Challenges not only seeks new ideas and new innovators to solve problems, but to be careful in defining the important problems worth solving. The GCI partnership with BIRAC provides India leadership for two goals – defining important problems to solve for India and India leadership in identifying ideas and innovators from the country to solve problems for both India and the world.  More specifically, the partnership aims to channel Indian innovation and research towards key health and development challenges and identify new prevention methods, therapies and interventions to identify solutions health issues and inequities pertaining to nutrition and development. GCI aims to adopt best practices from all partners in the quest to find and support innovations that can be scaled up to solve development problems globally”

Through this meeting and future collaborations, the partners aim to build momentum for health and development initiatives via innovations and to foster scientific collaboration among national and international groups and researchers.

“India is currently at an exciting phase, as the massive potential available in the country is now being unleashed. GCI aims to harness this talent of Indian innovators and researchers to help identify solutions for key development challenges faced worldwide. What was sowed as a seed in the greater network of the Global Grand Challenges movement, has grown roots and branched in to a flourishing entity of its own. Today GCI now funds 17 innovations,” stated Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee, Mission Director, Program Management Unit.