Gordon Perkin

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Gates’ former global health director becomes venture capitalist, again | 

Gates Foundation

Tachi Yamada

Tachi Yamada, who recently retired from his position as director of global health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has taken a new job with a Seattle venture capital firm, Frazier Healthcare Ventures.

I’m not sure if this a trend, but that makes two out of three former Gates Foundation global health czars so far moving from philanthropy to venture capital. Yamada’s predecessor at the Gates Foundation, Richard Klausner, is a partner in a San Francisco-based venture capitalist focused on pharmaceuticals and biotech.

Here’s an article on Yamada’s move by Luke Timmerman at Xconomy and another from the Wall Street Journal.

As I wrote in mid-February, when Yamada announced he would be stepping down, the big question many have is if his replacement will signify some kind of mission shift for the Gates Foundation. I doubt it.

Klausner did represent a major shift in emphasis toward basic science and, some would say, against dealing with the immediate needs of the poor. Gordon Perkin, the first global health director for Gates and co-founder of PATH, helped launch the Seattle philanthropy as well as its primary (and continued) emphasis on promoting expansion of childhood vaccinations.

Yamada was brought in to the Gates Foundation primarily to mend fences and re-establish order. Klausner, who accomplished a lot to build up the philanthropy’s investment in and rapport with the scientific establishment, left his position under a bit of a cloud due to a combination of factors. Before Rick left, I’d long heard (off-record) complaints about his management and “mission drift” within the Gates Foundation global health program.

Yamada didn’t really launch any big initiative that you can point to as his legacy. But from all accounts, the Gates global health program is back on the rails. The philanthropy has yet to announce Yamada’s replacement.

PATH celebrates 34 years of life-saving gizmos | 

Seattle-based PATH today celebrated 34 years of finding creative ways to use science and technology to save millions of lives, mostly children, and one achievement this year that was unusually ground-breaking.

A vaccine made only for poor people.

That sounds simple enough, but it isn’t. Vaccines have to be made by the drug industry and industry needs to make money. In central Africa, a particular strain of meningitis has for generations killed, maimed and terrified communities from Senegal to Ethiopia.

Developing a vaccine against this bacteria was long possible, but the drug industry saw no market for it. This disease was too geographically specific and the people (or the governments) too poor to be able to afford a “designer” vaccine.

But, as I posted on last December, PATH’s Marc LaForce was determined to get this vaccine made and paid for because the well-being of millions of Africans depended upon it.

“It took 10 years to develop this vaccine,” LaForce said today at PATH’s annual fundraising Breakfast for Global Health event, this year held art Bell Harbor. It took financial as well as technical innovation, as described on PATH’s web site.

In Burkina Faso, where the vaccination campaign started this winter and which used to see thousands of cases of bacterial meningitis, LaForce said this year “there has been only one case.” At the PATH breakfast, St. Joseph’s choir mimicked the sound of rain — end of meningitis season — to celebrate the achievement.

Tom Paulson

St. Joseph's Choir, mimicking the sound of rain and end of meningitis season

Chris Elias, president of PATH, said some 20 million children and young adults have been vaccinated so far with assistance from UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization, countless health workers in Africa and, most recently, with $100 million in new funding to expand coverage from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

That is in itself an amazing success story, he said, but what makes PATH’s Meningitis Vaccine Project “one of the most important milestones in public health” is how they demonstrated that a vaccine of use only to poor countries could, in fact, be produced cheaply (about $.50 a dose) and profitably by industry.

Another milestone celebrated at the PATH breakfast today was a reunion of the founders of PATH, Gordon Duncan, Richard Mahoney and Gordon Perkin. The three started PATH (which initially went by a different, much less phonetic, name) primarily to work on improving maternal health in poor countries.

PATH, which today is one of the world leaders in the burgeoning field of global health, didn’t always have it so easy. I can remember going to visit them in the 1980s in their non-descript building on the Lake Washington ship canal, working on projects in cramped and hardly luxurious settings. At one point, they were even at risk of going out of business due to cuts in donor funding.

But they persevered, moving into new areas with technological solutions or improvements focused on problems in vaccination, water safety and other health needs. Eventually, PATH caught the eye of the (at the time new) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The rest, as they say, is history.

“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Richard Mahoney, who is now working on a (Gates-funded) project in South Korea, the Dengue Vaccine Initiative.

Tom Paulson

PATH founders Richard Mahoney, Gordon Duncan and Gordon Perkin

Gates Fdn exec leaving: Global health mission shift? | 

Dr. Tachi Yamada is leaving his position in June as head of the Gates Foundation’s global health program.

That’s big news primarily because the Gates’ global health program is so big, the largest program at the world’s largest philanthropy, accounting for more than half of the $3 billion the Gates Foundation spends every year trying to make the world a better, healthier and more equitable place.

So what does it mean that Tachi is leaving an organization that rivals (some say exceeds) the influence of the World Health Organization when it comes to setting the global health agenda?

I think it probably means a lot less than when his two predecessors left. Perhaps because of the maturity of the Gates global health program today, Tachi’s imprint on the program seems pretty faint. (Note: I call him Tachi because he prefers it, perhaps for the same reason Bill Gates prefers to be called “Bill” and not Mr. Gates.) Continue reading

PATH co-founder Gordon Perkin honored | 

Gordon Perkin

Gordon Perkin, co-founder of PATH

Dr. Gordon Perkin, one of the co-founders of PATH and the Gates Foundation’s first director of global health, receives Canada’s highest honor today.

Perkin, who is Canadian but still allowed to reside in Seattle, is being awarded the Order of Canada for his many contributions to advancing global health.

He, Gordon Duncan and Richard Mahoney created PATH in 1977 (it was actually called something else before being renamed the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) primarily to improve maternal and reproductive health in poor countries. Continue reading