Tackling diseases that devastate the poor
Steve Reed's work as a scientist has taken him from rural Eastern Washington to the Amazon rainforest. He taught medicine at Cornell University...
Steve Reed's work as a scientist has taken him from rural Eastern Washington to the Amazon rainforest. He taught medicine at Cornell University and later helped found the biotech company Corixa in Seattle.
Now, with funding from the Gates Foundation, Reed is bridging the gap between academia and private industry, tackling neglected diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy and leishmaniasis, a disfiguring and often fatal disease transmitted by a sand fly.
Reed, 56, founded the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) in 1993. The nonprofit has received more than one-third of its money from the foundation, including a five-year, $15 million grant in 2000 and a $32 million six-year grant this year. Its mission is to create vaccines, diagnostic tools and therapies for diseases that devastate the poor.
When Reed started his career as an orderly at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, he saw a lot of attention being paid to preventable diseases related to things such as smoking or obesity. Yet in other countries, people were dying after an insect bite.
He decided to focus his life's work on diseases that got less attention but could make a big impact on the health of the poor. "It's something worth doing, and there's not a lot of other people doing it," he said.
IDRI is producing promising vaccines, work usually done by for-profit biotech or pharmaceutical companies. The problem is those companies won't risk millions of dollars up front to fund a product if its only market is in impoverished countries, Reed said.
Collaborating between the nonprofit institute and Corixa, Reed led development of the first vaccine for leishmaniasis. With the new award from Gates, the institute is testing a vaccine that not only prevents the disease but treats it.
Reed also brought together scientists from the institute, Corixa and GlaxoSmithKline to develop the world's first large-scale tuberculosis vaccine.
"That's the leading candidate in the world, developed in Seattle," he said.
— Kristi Heim
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