Impact investing may suddenly be red-hot, but this is hardly new terrain for the Gates Foundation, which has long financed program-related investments in ventures that align with its grantmaking priorities, such as global health and development, and education.
Over the years, the foundation has developed a good number of partners via its PRI program, and investments are made with relatively little fanfare. The same can be said for its recent investment in the German biotech company CureVac. What makes this investment different from the rest is that it marks Gates’s largest equity investment in a company to date.
The foundation is investing $52 million in CureVac toward the construction of a new production facility. The money also supports the company’s ongoing operations in vaccine and immunotherapy development. CureVac is a privately held company that uses its proprietary technology called mRNA, which allows the company to manufacture vaccines and quickly and at low cost. The foundation plans to build a collaborative relationship with CureVac in vaccine development for infectious diseases and any Gates-funded end products will be made available to poor countries at a reasonable price.
Outside of the $52 million equity investment, the Gates Foundation plans to fund a number of vaccine development projects at CureVac that are related to viral, bacterial, and parasitic infectious diseases, focusing on those that disproportionately affect people living in poor countries.
Vaccination and drug development to combat infectious disease is the second-largest category of PRIs made at Gates. Including CureVac, the foundation has thrown money behind 10 such companies including Alere, Anacor Pharmaceuticals, Genocea Biosciences, and Zyomyx.
The work supported through Gates’s PRI program is diverse. Each of the 10 companies are conducting vaccine and drug development work in relatively different arenas that range from using new technology to drive down costs to attracting new investments for late-stage vaccine development projects. Though the foundation is pretty tight-lipped as to how much money it invests in each of its global health partner companies, we dug up a few numbers:
- Zyomyx: Gates invested $6 million between 2007 and 2009 and an additional $10 million to support its point of care HIV test
- Visterra: The foundation made a $13 million equity investment in Visterra in 2012 to support its flu antibody-related therapies.
- Liquidia: Gates invested $10 million 2011 to support Liquidia’s work advancing novel flu vaccines through research of the size and shape of particles.
- Anacor: Gates paid out $17.7 million and invested $5 million to support Anacor’s work in TB, onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, and tuberculosis (TB).
- Genocea: The foundation made a $1.2 million PRI in 2014 toward the acceleration of its T-cell-directed vaccines and immunotherapies related to malaria vaccines.
- Atreca: Gates put up $6 million in 2012 for its vaccine development acceleration projects for infectious diseases focusing on its first four years on malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
- Kymab: Gates gave Kymab $40 million in 2014 to support the company’s new antibody development projects initially focused on HIV and malaria
- GHIF: The foundation agreed to underwrite 60 percent of capital losses of the fund. GHIF is a $108 million social impact investment fund.
- Alere: Gates awarded Alere a $21.6 million grant and up to $20.6 million in debt financing to forward its work developing point-of-care molecular testing platforms related to tuberculosis.
So far, we can see that Gates PRIs are pretty tech-heavy, and if the project results in driving down the costs of traditionally expensive diagnostics and pharmaceuticals, all the better.