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Mark Suzman. (Gates Foundation Photo)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is teaming up with Wellcome and Mastercard to form the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a $125 million effort to help find potential treatments for the coronavirus epidemic and future threats.

The accelerator will bring together the World Health Organization, pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms, government, and other philanthropic groups to develop therapies for COVID-19.

There are currently no vaccines to prevent the deadly disease that has killed more than 4,000 people and infected more than 113,000 worldwide. Researchers say it will take at least a year to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

The accelerator aims to “speed up R&D and slow down the spread,” said Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation. It will have an end-to-end focus, from drug pipeline development to scale-up. The partners will evaluate both new and repurposed drugs and biologics.

“The only way to treat a viral infection, such as COVID-19, is with antiviral drugs,” Suzman wrote in a blog post. “Right now, we can only treat the symptoms since there simply aren’t antiviral medications that can treat a range of conditions in the same way that antibiotics do for bacterial infections.

“This is where we believe we can help by partnering with private and philanthropic enterprises to lower the financial risk and technical barriers for biotech and pharmaceutical companies developing antivirals for COVID-19.”

The Gates Foundation, based in Seattle, is committing $50 million to the accelerator; it’s part of the $100 million the foundation previously put toward the global response to COVID-19. Wellcome, a London-based research charity, also put up $50 million, while Mastercard contributed $25 million.

“This virus is an unprecedented global threat, and one for which we must propel international partnerships to develop treatments, rapid diagnostics, and vaccines,” Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, said in a statement. “Science is moving at a phenomenal pace against COVID-19, but to get ahead of this epidemic we need greater investment and to ensure research coordination.”

The Gates Foundation is also reportedly exploring the idea of funding at-home testing kits for the novel coronavirus in Seattle, the initial epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak that has now spread across the country. It previously announced another $5 million “to help public health agencies in the greater Seattle region enhance their capacity to detect novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in King County, Snohomish County and other surrounding communities.”

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