Public Release: 

New Canadian organization will help fund solutions to health challenges in developing countries

First of 5 'Grand Challenges': Create point-of-care tools to diagnose range of illnesses

Sandra Rotman Centre for Global Health

The Hon. James Flaherty, Minister of Finance for Canada, today announced the launch of Grand Challenges Canada, an innovative initiative that will help redefine Canada's role in the developing world by bringing together Canadian scientists, developing world scientific researchers, and the private sector to solve some of the most persistent health challenges facing poor countries.

Grand Challenges Canada's mission is to identify global Grand Challenges, fund researchers and organizations to address them, and support the implementation and commercialization of the solutions that emerge.

The Government of Canada is committing $225 million over five years to the Development Innovation Fund, announced in the 2008 Budget, to support the best minds in the world in a collaborative search for solutions to global health challenges.

Grand Challenges Canada was created to implement the realization of this goal working with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Crown Corporation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), a Government of Canada Agency.

Grand Challenges Canada is an independent not-for-profit organization governed by its own Board and guided by a Scientific Advisory Board, whose members are some of the world's most distinguished medical scientists from both the developed and developing world. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health.

A Grand Challenge is a specific critical barrier that, if removed, would help solve an important health problem in the developing world with a high likelihood of global impact through widespread implementation. Grand Challenges Canada will identify, fund and support a total of five Grand Challenges in global health.

"Grand Challenges Canada will lead the way in making a better, safer and healthier world", said Minister Flaherty. "It is an ambitious new Canadian organization aimed at supporting global partnerships to solve the developing worlds most difficult and pressing health challenges."

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supportive of the mission of Grand Challenges Canada and pleased to work together on the Grand Challenge of Point-of-Care diagnostics," said Dr. Carol Dahl, Director of Staff for the Global Health Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The purpose of this challenge is to improve the diagnosis of diseases afflicting millions in the developing world by bringing diagnostic tools to the patient's bedside.

"Innovation saves lives," said Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada and Director of the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, University Health Network and University of Toronto. "Diagnosis is the prelude to effective treatment. Bringing diagnostic tools to the patient's bedside is better, faster, and cheaper than sending a sample to a laboratory 100 km away."

Diagnostic improvements could save more than 100,000 lives annually from malaria-related deaths alone and could reduce more than 365 million unnecessary treatments, which can lead to wasted resources and drug resistance.

Said Mr. Joseph L. Rotman, one of Canada's most philanthropic business leaders and Chairman of Grand Challenges Canada, "once these innovative solutions are created, it is up to a collaboration of business, academia, government and philanthropy to invest in and develop these advances and make them available and affordable to all who need them. It's gratifying to see that the Canadian Government has the far-sighted vision to support this extraordinary venture which will make such a difference in the world and to Canada's role in international development."

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About Grand Challenges Canada

Grand Challenges Canada is a unique and independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people in developing countries by integrating scientific, technological, business and social innovation. Grand Challenges Canada works with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and other global health foundations and organizations to find sustainable long-term solutions to the most pressing health challenges. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health. Please see the Request for Proposals for the Point-of-Care Diagnostics program at www.grandchallenges.ca

About Canada's International Development Research Centre

IDRC supports research in developing countries to promote growth and development. IDRC also encourages sharing this knowledge with policymakers, other researchers, and communities around the world. The result is innovative, lasting local solutions that aim to bring choice and change to those who need it most. As the Government of Canada's lead on the Development Innovation Fund, the International Development Research Centre will draw on decades of experience managing publicly funded research projects to administer the Development Innovation Fund. IDRC will also ensure that developing country researchers and concerns are front and centre in this exciting new initiative. www.idrc.ca

About Canadian Institutes of Health Research

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's agency for health research. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to catalyze its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health-care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 13,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada. CIHR will be responsible for the administration of international peer review, according to international standards of excellence. The results of CIHR-led peer review will guide the awarding of grants by Grand Challenges Canada from the Development Innovation Fund. www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca

About McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health

The McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health is based at University Health Network and University of Toronto. We develop and evaluate new models of global health innovation and, working with partners, facilitate their adoption where they are most urgently needed. The McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health hosts Grand Challenges Canada. www.mrcglobal.org

Fast facts:

1. Grand Challenges Canada is a bold Canadian initiative that will help transform global health through innovation

2. Through scientific, technological, social and business innovation, Grand Challenges Canada can lead change and develop long-term, sustainable solutions to pressing health challenges in the developing world

3. In the developing world, 9 million children die each year before their 5th birthday. Almost a million people die each year of malaria alone, most of them children.

4. A Grand Challenge is a specific critical barrier that if removed would help solve an important health problem in the developing world.

5. The first Grand Challenge is Point-of-Care diagnostics, which aims to bring the diagnosis of disease to the patient's bedside. Diagnosis is the prelude to treatment.

6. Grand Challenges Canada will work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Point-of-Care diagnostics to find improved diagnostic tests that can be implemented in remote and impoverished areas of the developing world.

7. According to a study in Nature magazine, improvements to diagnostic testing at the bedside can save over 100,000 lives a year and avoid more than 365 million unnecessary treatments, saving precious medication for those who need it and minimizing drug resistance.

8. There will be 5 Grand Challenges selected over a 5 year period

9. Grand Challenges Canada is an unique and independent not-for-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors and guided by Scientific Advisory Board whose members are some of the world's most distinguished medical scientists from both the developing and developed world.

10. Grand Challenges Canada is funded by the Government of Canada's Development Innovation Fund, $225 million over 5 years. Grand Challenges Canada partners with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Backgrounder

In the developing world, 9 million children die each year before their fifth birthday. The health challenges are immense. But so are the opportunities to make a difference, to bring positive sustainable change to the health and well-being of so many.

Grand Challenges Canada has been created to take a leading role at the forefront of this change, developing solutions to global health challenges through innovation.

In 2008, the Government of Canada announced the Development Innovation Fund. The purpose of the fund is to:

"Support the best minds in the world as they search for breakthroughs in global health and other areas that have the potential to bring about enduring changes in the lives of millions of people in poor countries."

The Government of Canada is committing $225 million over five years to the Development Innovation Fund to address global health issues.

The Development Innovation Fund will be delivered by Grand Challenges Canada working with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Grand Challenges Canada is governed by its own Board and guided by a Scientific Advisory Board, whose members include some of the world's most distinguished medical scientists from both the developing and developed worlds. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, University Health Network and University of Toronto.

As the Government of Canada's lead on the Development Innovation Fund, the International Development Research Centre will draw on decades of experience managing research projects and ensure that developing country researchers and concerns are front and centre in this exciting new initiative.

A grand challenge is a specific critical barrier that, if removed, would help solve an important health problem in the developing world with a high likelihood of global impact through widespread implementation.

The concept of grand challenges was first introduced over a century ago in Germany where Dr. David Hilbert defined a list of 23 challenges in mathematics. By defining the challenges, he inspired a generation of mathematicians to work to overcome them. His efforts were an overwhelming success; nearly all of those challenges were solved.

The same focused energy and effort will be applied to define and address pressing global health issues.

How will Grand Challenges Canada do it?

First, through a process of exploration, Grand Challenges Canada will identify those challenges that will have a significant impact.

Second, through funding and support, Grand Challenges Canada will enable Canadian and developing world scientists to introduce innovation to solve these persistent problems.

Grand Challenges Canada is committed to unlocking the potential of developing world scientists and Canadian scientists working jointly to tackle health challenges and contribute to create permanent solutions. Local scientists have insight; skills and ability that can best define and solve the challenges faced by their countries.

Third, once a solution is identified, the private sector and philanthropists will be encouraged to invest; thereby, making the solution available broadly to the people who need it most.

The uniqueness of Grand Challenges Canada is that it brings within a country's international assistance budget a large-scale commitment to innovation and global health. It also integrates scientific, technological, social, and business innovation.

Through this fresh approach, Canada's role in international development will be redefined, building our reputation for breakthrough innovation and long-term health solutions.

In total, there will be five Grand Challenges. Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will work together on the first challenge, Point-of-Care Diagnostics.

In the developing world, tools are not readily available to accurately assess a person's health. For example, does a child with a fever have the flu, pneumonia or malaria? Each disease requires different treatment, but developing countries lack quick, effective diagnostic tests. Point-of-Care Diagnostics are needed that can be implemented even in remote and impoverished areas of Africa.

The following criteria must be met:

  • Quick simple readout
  • Low cost
  • Sensitivity and the ability to 'rule out' particular worrisome conditions
  • Able to be used by minimally trained staff
  • Function above 30 degree C and high humidity
  • Stored without refrigeration
  • Testing with out the need for specialized lab equipment
  • Rapid detection

Nature magazine reported in 2006 that creating a new effective diagnostic could avert up to 100,000 malaria-related deaths a year and could avoid 365 million unnecessary treatments, saving precious medication for those who need it most, and minimizing drug resistance from improper use of medications. Providing on-the-spot diagnosis at the patient's bedside will save lives and improve the health outcomes of many.

Further Grand Challenges will be announced as they are determined.

Dr. Peter A. Singer is the founding Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. Dr. Abdallah Daar is the founding Chief Science and Ethics Officer. Mr. Joseph L. Rotman, noted business leader and philanthropist, is the Chair of the Board of Directors. Mr. David Malone, President of IDRC and Dr. Alain Beaudet, President of CIHR are members of Grand Challenges Canada Board of Directors.

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