On Friday, Microsoft founder Bill Gates announced that he will be contributing $12 million worth of funds toward the development of a universal flu vaccine that should protect people from all of the virus' strains. This, according to a new report, came about a month after Gates spoke to President Donald Trump about the idea of such a vaccine and got him "super interested" in it.
In an interview with STAT published on Monday, Gates recalled a meeting he had with Trump in March where he had what he described as the "longest conversation" that the president ever had about a potential universal flu vaccine. He remembered trying to convince Trump to associate himself with "American innovation" and to get behind the idea of spearheading efforts to speed up research and development of such a vaccine. Gates added that Trump appeared "super interested," to the point that he asked about the vaccine in a speakerphone call with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, just moments after the idea was first brought up.
According to STAT, Gottlieb was able to confirm to the publication that he did indeed talk about a universal flu vaccine with Trump, but declined to share any specifics.
Gates' 40-minute meeting with Trump about the universal flu vaccine idea also included an offer for him to take over as White House science adviser, a position that has been vacant since the last Office of Science and Technology director, John Holdren, resigned at the end of Barack Obama's administration. Gates recalled to STAT that he turned down the offer, telling Trump that it wouldn't be a "good use of [his] time."
Bill Gates announced his new flu vaccine initiative at the Epidemics Going Viral: Innovation Vs. Nature symposium in Boston on Friday, explaining that flu pandemics are still a "serious threat" in the 100 years that passed since the 1918 pandemic killed about 50 million people worldwide. As recapped by Scientific American, Gates' project, which he referred to as a "$12 million Grand Challenge," was launched in partnership with the family of Larry Page, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, and is designed to "accelerate" the development of a universal flu vaccine.
"The goal is to encourage bold thinking by the world's best scientists across disciplines, including those new to the field. Lucy and Larry Page are also supporting efforts by the Sabin Vaccine Institute to encourage innovative approaches that eliminate the threat of a deadly flu pandemic."