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VCU Engineering’s Medicines for All awarded $25 million to increase access to lifesaving medications

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B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D. Photo by Dan Wagner, courtesy VCU School of Engineering

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering has been awarded a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Medicines for All Institute and to fund the institute’s work on a wide range of essential global health treatments. With this grant, the institute can help increase access to lifesaving medications for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases around the world.

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., the Floyd D. Gottwald Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering in the VCU School of Engineering, will continue to lead and serve as principal investigator for Medicines for All. Over the past four years, the Gates Foundation has awarded nearly $15 million to Medicines for All. During this time and with this support, Medicines for All has developed an innovative model that reduces the cost of manufacturing AIDS treatments such as nevirapine by accelerating the creation of more efficient ways of synthesizing the active ingredients in the medications. The institute has also worked closely with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and other implementation partners to transfer the new processes to manufacturers so that more medications can reach communities in need.

The success of Gupton’s team was evident from the initial grant. For instance, it was able to reduce the cost of nevirapine by more than 10 percent in less than one year.  

“The Gates Foundation gave us $4.4 million to work on this first target molecule,” Gupton said. “If we reduced the cost 10 percent, then the payback period on the $4.4 million would be about a year. With now sustained savings of more than 10 percent, the payback period has been even shorter.”

Until now, the Gates Foundation grants allowed Gupton to work on one drug at a time. This latest award will allow him to look at multiple drugs in parallel. This award also will fund the institute’s work on an additional 13 global health drugs over the next five years, both in market and in development.

These funds will allow us to bring in additional senior scientists and allow them to equip their labs and staff them immediately.

“These funds will allow us to bring in additional senior scientists and allow them to equip their labs and staff them immediately,” Gupton said. “The funds and the milestones on the grant are not only linked to the drugs that we are optimizing but in how we create a sustainable organization.”

The institute’s impact expands well beyond its three target diseases, as the process that reduces the cost per kilogram of specific drug targets can be applied to other medicines as well. While meeting an urgent health care need today, the Medicines for All Institute also signals dramatic change in future pharmaceutical manufacturing technologies. 

"The gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is an important recognition of the groundbreaking work being performed by Dr. Gupton and his team,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Chair and Dean of the VCU School of Engineering. “To be able to work on projects that are not only scientifically interesting, but also critically important for global health, is an incredible opportunity for our students and for the economic development of Richmond.”

This is the second-largest grant in VCU history and the largest from a private entity. In 2013, VCU received a $62 million federal grant to oversee a national research consortium of universities, hospitals and clinics to study what happens to service members and veterans who suffer mild traumatic brain injuries or concussions.

“I am extremely grateful for Dr. Frank Gupton’s leadership and innovative spirit,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “With the grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, scholars and researchers with the Medicines for All Institute will tackle the difficult work of improving the quality of life for those facing health-related adversities. Along with my colleagues, I look forward to witnessing the good that will result from VCU’s work to develop affordable pharmaceutical treatments that will improve the human condition for those who may have lost hope.”

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 225 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Seventy-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. The VCU Health brand represents the health sciences schools of VCU, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center and Level I trauma center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering has been awarded a $25 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Medicines for All Institute and to fund the institute’s work on a wide range of essential global health treatments. With this grant, the Institute can help increase access to lifesaving medications for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases around the world.