$100 Million Gift to Johns Hopkins University Targets Malaria

BALTIMORE, Maryland, May 10, 2001 (ENS) - An anonymous donor has pledged $100 million to the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health for a 10 year effort to rid the world of malaria by developing a new vaccine and drugs.

The gift will establish the Johns Hopkins Malaria Institute. The multidisciplinary center will combine traditional approaches with new weapons such as genomics and bioinformatics to take aim at a disease that kills an estimated one million to two million people a year and leaves hundreds of millions of others sick and destitute.

Sommer

Alfred Sommer, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health (Photo courtesy Johns Hopkins University)
"A child is killed by malaria every 30 seconds of every hour of every day of every year," said Alfred Sommer, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Johns Hopkins Malaria Institute will "wipe the slate clean," Sommer said, and take a fresh look at the malaria problem with new scientific tools, such as genetic sequencing and bioinformatics, that are just being developed and applied in other areas.

The global fight against malaria is losing ground. Anti-malaria drugs are losing effectiveness as resistant strains develop around the world, according to the World Health Organization.

Eradication of parasite carrying mosquitoes with such agents as DDT carries environmental concerns as the pesticide affects the human nervous and reproductive systems and may cause cancers. It is linked with the disappearance of bird species.

Attempts to develop a malaria vaccine have failed. Research is underfunded, because malaria is a relatively small problem in the developed world, the university said. Pharmaceutical companies have limited economic incentive to develop drugs aimed at a market in the developing world.

"This gift is a visionary investment in the health of millions and the future of humanity, especially in the developing world," said William Brody, president of the university. "We are determined to make that investment pay off."

Brody

Johns Hopkins University president William Brody holds an M.D. and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. He holds a U.S. patent in the field of medical imaging and has been a co-founder of three medical device companies. (Photo courtesy Johns Hopkins University)
Malaria not only kills, it also impoverishes, suppressing economic growth in Africa by up to 1.3 percent a year, said a study released last year by the World Health Organization. Had malaria been eradicated 35 years ago, the study said, sub-Saharan Africa's gross domestic product now would be $100 billion, or 32 percent, larger.

"We will bring together outstanding young scientists from multiple disciplines, not necessarily malaria experts," Sommer said. "We'll teach them about malaria and put them together in a critical mass, the goal being an innovative vaccine," and other new anti-malarial drugs.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Institute will collaborate with scientists across the United States and around the world and with WHO's "Roll Back Malaria" program, aimed at halving the disease's worldwide impact by 2010, Sommer said.

The institute is expected to attract additional funding from government and private sources, he said.

The $100 million gift matches the largest previous gift in Johns Hopkins history, the $100 million given by alumnus and news media entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg during the recent Johns Hopkins Initiative campaign. Bloomberg's gift benefited all the university's schools. The School of Public Health, which received the largest share, was renamed last month in recognition of Bloomberg's devotion to the university.