Bill Gates Says Private Sector Can Profit From Public Health

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants corporations to join its efforts in advancing public health, not just because it’s the right thing to do — but because it can be lucrative too.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corp. and the second-richest person in the world, told private sector companies on Monday that he needs their help to solve pressing issues in global health. Drugmakers stand to benefit financially from joining the combined efforts, Gates said in prepared remarks at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco.

“Industry has the skills, experience and capacity necessary to turn discoveries into commercially viable products,” Gates said in his remarks. “And, frankly, the private sector has much to gain from pursuing breakthroughs in global health.”

Gates outlined his foundation’s goals to fight HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and reduce the infant mortality rate. Advancements in fields like immunotherapy and genetics could help solve some problems in the developing world, he said.

“With creative thinking, we can do it in ways that are both sustainable and profitable,” Gates said.

Business Case

The Gates Foundation is a philanthropic powerhouse that has spent nearly $12 billion on global health projects over the past five years, Gates said. It has an investment arm which has forged more than 60 partnerships since 2009 and invested over $1.8 billion.

The traditional approach has been to tap into the corporate social responsibility activities of private companies, said Trevor Mundel, the Gates Foundation’s president of global health.

“We recognize those companies are motivated by being successful companies and by delivering returns to their shareholders,” Mundel said in an interview. “There’s a certain business rationale for getting involved in global health.”

Mundel mentioned the foundation’s distribution networks and political relationships in China, India and Africa as strengths that corporations could leverage in a partnership. The Gates Foundation can help alleviate the risk of initiating expensive research for a new drug, for example through volume commitments.

Among companies that have grown with help from the foundation is biotech firm Anacor Pharmaceuticals Inc. The foundation bought a stake in 2013 to encourage the company’s work on neglected diseases, and sold it three years later — making a return of about 17 percent.

In the next few years, Mundel expects to see continued growth in partnerships. “It’s on almost an exponential trajectory,” he said.

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