Bill Gates is spending 'billions' to ‘save months’ on a coronavirus vaccine

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to place “billions” in quotations, given that the sum has not been confirmed beyond Gates’ comments to the Daily Show.

Microsoft (MSFT) founder and philanthropic billionaire Bill Gates is spending “billions” of dollars on seven possible vaccines for the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, in hopes of finding an end to the pandemic.

Through his philanthropic organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates revealed that he was funding several efforts in partnership with other companies and countries to “save months, because every month counts.”

“Our early money can accelerate things,” Gates told The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. “Of all the vaccine constructs, the seven most promising of those, even though we’ll end up picking at most two of them, we’re going to fund factories for all seven, and just so that we don’t waste time in serially saying, ‘Okay, which vaccine works?’ And then building the factory.”

Microsoft founder, Co-Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates delivers a speech during the conference of Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2019, in Lyon, France. (Photo: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Gates added that spending “a few billion dollars in this situation we’re in, where there’s trillions of dollars — that’s a thousand times more — trillions of dollars being lost economically, it is worth it.”

Asked about the remarks, Gates Foundation said in a statement to Yahoo Finance: “The Gates Foundation is working with a range of national and multilateral stakeholders who are funding the development of vaccines for COVID-19. Many of the current vaccine approaches are novel and have never been scaled for a commercialized product… The foundation is exploring using its catalytic funding to get the process moving, recognizing that any large-scale projects will require multilateral and/or government funding.”

The ultimate solution... is to create a vaccine’

There are more than 330,000 cases of the coronavirus infection in the U.S., surpassing the rest of the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins as of Monday morning.

“This is a nightmare scenario, because human-to-human transmission of respiratory viruses can grow exponentially,” Gates told Fox News on Sunday. “And we had kept on going to work, traveling like we were.” 

Gates noted that with the introduction of extreme social distancing and improved testing, both of which he called for previously, the situation could improve so that the overall death toll falls short of the 100,000-240,000 estimated by the White House.

Coronavirus cases are still on the rise. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

“If we do the social distancing properly, we should be able to get out of this with the death number well short of that,” Gates said. “I do think we get the testing fixed, we get all 50 states involved, we’ll be below that. Of course we’ll pay a huge economic price in order to achieve that.”

And spending billions of dollars to find a vaccine is going to be worth it, Gates stressed.

“The ultimate solution, the only thing that really lets us go back completely to normal and feel good about sitting in a stadium with lots of other people, is to create a vaccine,” Gates said. “And not just take care of country, but take that vaccine out to the global population so that we have vast immunity and this thing, no matter what, isn’t going to spread in large numbers.”

The search for the COVID-19 vaccine

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) — a global public-private partnership launched in 2017 that the Gates Foundation funds— has made investments in eight vaccine programs, including:

Moderna: CEPI is funding the company’s efforts to “develop an mRNA vaccine against the novel coronavirus.” (The company has already started clinical trials). 

CureVac: CEPI is funding the company’s efforts to “develop a rapid-response vaccine platform” and “accelerated vaccine development, manufacturing and clinical tests.”

Coronavirus cases are still on the rise. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Inovio: CEPI is funding the company’s efforts to “support Inovio’s preclinical and clinical development through Phase 1 human testing of INO-4800, its new coronavirus vaccine match to the outbreak strain.” (The company is planning to dose the first person on Monday, according to Business Insider).

Novavax: CEPI is funding the company’s efforts to “develop a COVID-19 vaccine.”

University of Queensland: CEPI is funding the university’s efforts to develop technology “that enables targeted and rapid vaccine production against multiple viral pathogens.” 

Anjalee Khemlani contributed to this post.

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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