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Friends and others have been asking us what we’re doing to respond to COVID-19, given that @open_phil has supported work on pandemic preparedness for several years and that this is exactly the kind of threat many of our grantees have been warning about.
Our highest aspiration for our program work is to prevent pandemics like COVID-19 before they start and secondarily to minimize their spread. We're heartbroken to see this one get so far so fast.
Some of our most important efforts to mitigate COVID-19 are grants we made ahead of time. That includes support for @JHSPH_CHS, which runs exercises to prepare public officials for the kinds of scenarios they find themselves in today…
@NTI_WMD holds tabletop exercises and produces the Global Health Security Index and @biocommission pushes for a national biodefense strategy…
We’ve supported science that (though likely coming too late to help this time) we thought could help mitigate future viral pandemics like COVID-19. For example, @UWproteindesign research on computational protein design to quickly develop new vaccines…
We've supported testing (including @UCSF) of a promising class of broad-spectrum antivirals, hoping they would be ready before the next pandemic…
And we invested in @Sherlock_Bio with an emphasis on broadly applicable diagnostics for viruses, a technology with significant implications for outbreaks like COVID-19. (Imagine if an at-home test had been available in Wuhan months ago.)…
These were all attempts to empower great people to think ahead about pandemic risk. It’s hard to isolate any one effect, but we hope they contributed to lowering the odds of events like this and raising the quality of responses (granted, in some cases from a low baseline)
Because our focus has been pandemic *preparedness*, we’ve mostly supported forward-looking research. That said, we can make grants quickly, and we’ve been looking for opportunities to fill important gaps over the last couple months.
All of our grants related to COVID-19 can be found in our public database ( Here are a few of the things we’ve supported in recent days:
On testing: Serological testing by @UCBerkeleySPH (5,000 in the SF Bay Area) and @HarvardChanSPH (tens of thousands nationwide) aims to determine how many people have already been infected.
@broadinstitute is developing new tests and increasing its capacity by tens of thousands of patients, and @umichsph is producing antigenic proteins for use in tests that could expedite the selection of plasma from recovered patients for use in treatments.
And @MountSinaiNYC will measure how much asymptomatic carriers are shedding the virus, identify early cellular markers of severity of infection, track whether people could eventually be reinfected, and help enable clinical trials of convalescent serum.
On equipment: @ColoradoSPH is researching decontamination and reuse of PPE, which could inform @WHO and @CDC recommendations for healthcare workers, and @EWBUSA is designing, testing, producing, and distributing low-cost PPE and ventilators to hospitals in low-income countries.
And Sea-Long Medical Systems will expand production of its ventilation helmets (which could reduce the number of patients who need to go on a mechanical ventilator)…
On govt response: @superforecaster expanded COVID-19 forecasts to help health professionals… and @CGDev (with @NTI_WMD & @georgetown_ghss) built COVID Local, a guide for local decision-makers in the US and soon internationally
Also of note, @GiveWell is helping in the developing world, sending money to @followdmi for public broadcasting promoting anti-spread measures; @IDInsight for data collection; and to @mushfiq_econ to help support Bangladesh govt response…
Finally, Cari and I are doing some personal giving in the name of good citizenship disaster relief. We’ve supported the SF fund and @GiveDirectly’s COVID-19 cash program in the US. Join us if you can
We expect to continue to find new opportunities, and we’re open to receiving unsolicited short pre-proposals at science[at] (we try to consider all proposals but cannot respond in all cases). Here’s how we think about what to fund:
We aim to help as much as we can with every dollar. We remain deeply concerned about existing problems like malaria, intestinal parasites, and global poverty. We support COVID-19 work when it can help more people than other powerful options, such as @GiveWell top charities.
In a rapidly developing situation like this one, it’s hard to know what clears that bar, but some of our considerations:
We want to fund things others can’t or won’t. We think we can add value and create impact by supporting projects that are structurally undersupported, and have made neglectedness one of our core cause-selection and grantmaking criteria
Like @gatesfoundation, we believe all lives have equal value. So we’re just as interested in reducing the harms from COVID-19 in the developing world as in the U.S. And if we can help more people abroad more cost-effectively, we’d prefer to do that.…
Finally, per our emphasis on preparedness, we don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about how to prevent something like this -- or worse -- from happening again.
COVID-19 could be the worst pandemic in the last ~100 years. But in the future, it could become feasible for someone to create something even worse. An engineered pandemic, whether via accidents or misuse, may have the potential to cause unprecedented harm.
Reducing the likelihood of such an outcome is one of the most critical projects philanthropy and government can undertake, which is why even today, in the midst of COVID-19, our biosecurity program has a lot of its energy focused on looking ahead.
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