Gates Foundation-Xinova Tie-Up Aimed at Using Data to Fight Malaria

A pair of Seattle-based organizations want to harness big data to help combat a big global health problem: malaria.

Xinova, which operates a global innovation network to help people turn ideas into real-world products and services, said Thursday it’s seeking proposals for improved management of data on medications and supplies used to prevent and treat malaria in northern Nigeria. Xinova said it plans to award the teams behind the two most promising ideas $10,000 in funding each, and help them prepare pitches in which teams will explain their ideas to leaders at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and ask that organization for additional grant funding.

Nigeria is the world’s most malaria-burdened nation, with an estimated 82,000 deaths annually. The disease accounts for 18 percent of all deaths in Nigeria, and more than one-quarter of deaths of children ages 4 and below, according to the Gates Foundation.

The foundation, which had an endowment of more than $50 billion as of late 2017, is well known for its efforts to combat some of the deadliest diseases affecting the developing world, such as AIDS and tuberculosis. While the organization has reportedly already put more than $1 billion into malaria research, its partnership with Xinova represents a new approach to fighting the disease, the foundation says.

One of the issues holding back large-scale improvements in diagnosing and treating Nigerians with malaria is the country’s lack of high-quality systems for tracking medical supplies. Pharmacies, non-government clinics, and other facilities maintain databases tracking quantities and locations of supplies. However, these systems—and the organizations that manage them—tend to be “disparate,” Xinova says, making it easier to exchange data and keep their systems up-to-date could improve the care malaria patients receive more broadly.

Part of idea behind the partnership is that there might be some existing technologies people in Xinova’s network know of, or have worked on, which could be tweaked so that they suit “cultural, political, and socio-economic factors in Nigeria,” according to a news release. Xinova has offices on four continents. The organization, which has helped launch spinout companies in the past, works with the technology professionals, entrepreneurs, and others in its network to assess and develop ideas for addressing major challenges in global health and other fields.

“This partnership signifies a serious intent to engage worldwide resources toward solving the Nigerian malaria crisis and underscores the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration to address some of today’s biggest problems,” Edward Jung, founder and CEO of Xinova, said in the release.

Jung is a veteran of the Seattle tech scene. He was previously chief architect at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and is a co-founder of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue, WA-based “outsourced tech transfer agent” that works with research institutions and businesses across the globe.

People seeking to work with Xinova and the Gates Foundation to advance ideas for improving malaria data management in Nigeria have until May 13 to submit their applications.

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