PATH, Fueled by Bill Gates’ Fortune, Builds Global Health Hothouse in Seattle

2/4/09Follow @xconomy

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then in asking companies to work with us on the next technology,” Elias says. “We also wouldn’t be able to recruit skeptical companies to work with us. They’d look at this, and say not enough people used it. We need to go the whole way from development to delivery of new innovations.”

There may well be no other organization in the world with quite the same model and scope as PATH. Some organizations apply the same public-private partnership model that builds a portfolio of ideas against specific diseases, including the New York-based International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and Geneva-based Medicines for Malaria Venture. PATH doesn’t overlap with those groups, because it doesn’t work on HIV vaccines or malaria drugs, Elias says.

One other thing I wanted to know was whether Elias worries that PATH might be spreading itself too thin, or whether it will lose its edge by getting too big and bureaucratic. This didn’t seem to worry him very much. He thinks the organization can keep growing, as long as it continues to attract top talent from business, public health, and academia. The organization has 16 entrepreneurial business units, all of manageable sizes and with a fair degree of autonomy, Elias says. When it grows, it adds new teams in new countries, with the same nimble structure, he says.

“We’ve tried to avoid becoming bureaucratic and protect the entrepreneurial innovation capability of our teams. If we couldn’t do that, we might get overstretched and take on too much,” Elias says. “If we can’t find entrepreneurial, highly motivated people to staff these programs, we won’t be able to deliver.”

The health needs of people in the developing world are so vast, it’s hard to imagine any organization developing enough horsepower to take them all on, entrepreneurial spirit or not. Yet PATH intends to keep growing, Elias says, as long as it can continue to build its base of support, or until somebody else can do it better, or it gets so big that its growth is unmanageable.

“We can, and are, working to reduce that inequity through applying innovation in ways that lead to affordable health solutions that are accessible by everybody,” Elias says. “We have a long way to go. It’s a long-term vision. It’s a long-term vision to think about equitable access to health care in the U.S., let alone globally. But we’re making progress.”

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