Creativity, New Thinking ‘Crucial’ To Improving Global Health, Including Curbing HIV/AIDS, Perspective Piece Says
The "recent failure of another potential vaccine against" HIV "underscores the enormous challenges of tackling diseases whose heaviest burden falls on the developing world," Tadataka Yamada, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Health Program, writes in a New England Journal of Medicine perspective piece. Creativity and new ways of thinking are "crucial for the advancement of science and medicine," Yamada writes. He adds that it "seems clear that neither current dogma nor traditional thinking is likely to get us to the next step" in advancing HIV vaccine research and that "[t]ruly creative ideas will be required."
Letting go of "old concepts and familiar methods" requires "humility," which global health research often has lacked, according to Yamada. He adds that global health "projects related to diseases" -- such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis -- "tend to reflect consensus views, avoid controversy and have a high probability of success." According to Yamada, innovation "frequently arises from the lessons of repeated failure, so if we are not willing to take risks and fail often, we will miss many opportunities to capture novel approaches that can transform a field." Yamada writes that to encourage a more "adventurous approach" and to "breathe life" into global health research, the Gates Foundation will begin accepting grant proposals on March 31 for the first round of its Grand Challenges Explorations program. Although the Gates Foundation expects "many of these projects to fail," it "stand[s] ready to put substantial funding behind those that succeed," Yamada writes.
Current research projects "gamble that a relatively small number of ideas will solve the world's greatest global health challenges," Yamada writes, adding, "That's not a bet we can afford to continue making for much longer" (Yamada, NEJM, 3/27).
The perspective piece is available online.