Bill Gates & Priti Patel: British innovation is helping to make the world safer for us all

Read the Secretary of State's article with Bill Gates for The Evening Standard here:

A joint science initiative by the Government and the Gates Foundation aims to tackle some global threats

Britain has a proud history of changing the world through ingenuity and invention. The first vaccine ever developed, for smallpox, began with Edward Jenner’s famous experiments in Gloucestershire.

John Snow’s map of cholera outbreaks in Victorian London transformed how we respond to disease. And a self-taught carpenter and clockmaker from Yorkshire, John Harrison, revolutionised seafaring by solving the age-old problem of calculating longitude at sea.

These great scientific heroes came from every corner of the UK. And today, the world needs Britain’s leadership, intellectual firepower, and spirit of innovation more than ever. We face enormous challenges: from extreme poverty to a changing climate, to food insecurity and the unprecedented movement of people.

New challenges such as drug-resistant infections are emerging, threatening all of us with the awful prospect of essential antibiotics becoming ineffective, making even a simple infection potentially lethal.

And there is a very real chance that a more infectious epidemic than Ebola or Zika will emerge in the next 20 years. Diseases do not stop at international borders. We can’t build a wall to hold back the next epidemic. We need to tackle global problems at source.

To meet these challenges, we need to harness the very best of British and global research talent

To meet these challenges, we need to harness the very best of British and global research talent. That’s why, today, we will be speaking to more than 1,000 of the world’s greatest scientists, who are gathered in London for the annual Grand Challenges meeting.

Set up by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and others, this initiative inspires and funds innovative solutions to the world’s biggest problems, from pandemics to hunger and nutrition.

An outward-looking, globally engaged Britain is at the heart of efforts like these. The UK is one of the world’s research superpowers and is respected internationally for the quality and impact of its work. Scientists from up and down the UK are involved.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge are working with the UK Met Office and international scientists to track and prevent deadly outbreaks of wheat rust which can decimate this important food crop for many of the world’s poorest people. The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is developing new insecticides to fight the mosquitos that carry deadly malaria.

And researchers from across the UK — including from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Oxford and the University of Sussex — played a crucial role in defeating the Ebola outbreak.

The good news is that we are making progress — much of it a result of the UK’s overseas aid budget. Last year the British government set up a major new Global Challenges Research Fund to support scientists to tackle global problems.

The UK has also created the Ross Fund, to accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs to tackle diseases of epidemic potential, such as Ebola, treat neglected tropical diseases that affect over a billion people and respond to drug resistance, including for malaria and tuberculosis. The fund is named after the first ever British Nobel laureate, Sir Ronald Ross, who proved that malaria was transmitted by mosquitos.

Today the UK Government is confirming that the Department for International Development will continue to invest three per cent of its aid budget into cutting-edge research that will help save millions of lives in the coming years — and, in so doing, help build a safer and more prosperous world for us all. Many UK institutions, which remain at the forefront of vital research that saves lives around the world, will benefit from this investment.

Investing in long-term overseas development to beat diseases such as Ebola and Zika is not just about charity, it’s about making the world a safer place for everyone

As part of this effort we can announce today that the UK and the Gates Foundation will co-fund new research grants to scientists and organisations working to develop and increase the adoption of new agricultural technologies. These will build resilience to climate change, diseases and pests, and increase the productivity of farmers across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The contribution of UK science is vital in much of the work funded, for example in improving disease resistance of cassava, a key food source for millions of people in Africa.

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. As we look around the world today we see enormous progress, but also global needs that remain immense. Investing in long-term overseas development to beat diseases such as Ebola and Zika is not just about charity, it’s about making the world a safer place for everyone.

It is also one of the most effective ways to lift people out of poverty. So in the coming years we will continue to invest together in world-leading science, technology and innovation. The next wave of scientific discoveries and innovative technologies will be critical for ending extreme poverty and alleviating suffering around the world. And they will also deliver a safer, more secure world for the people of the UK.