Bill Gates Issues Well-Funded Condom Challenge

NEW YORK—Microsoft founder and global-minded philanthropist Bill Gates is so certain that a new type of condom will increase health benefits for millions of people around the world that he has put a sizeable chunk of his money to work trying to prove it.

As ABC News has reported, “Gates will give a $100,000 grant to whoever can invent the ‘next generation condom’ through The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health. The estimated 80 grant recipients can then apply for a follow-up grant worth up to $1 million.”

The thinking behind the campaign is that condoms, while effective when used properly, have not really evolved in decades. “Condoms have been in use for about 400 years yet they have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years,” states the Challenge. “The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality control measures which allow for quality testing of each individual condom.”

While condoms may be effective when used properly, the Challenge authors argue, “The primary drawback from the male perspective is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a trade-off that many men find unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made just prior to intercourse. Is it possible to develop a product without this stigma, or better, one that is felt to enhance pleasure?”

The Challenge continues, “Material science and our understanding of neurobiology has undergone revolutionary transformation in the last decade yet that knowledge has not been applied to improve the product attributes of one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth.”

It was this lack of attention that motivated Gates, and resulted in the Condom Grand Challenge: “We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use. Additional concepts that might increase uptake include attributes that increase ease-of-use for male and female condoms, for example better packaging or designs that are easier to properly apply. In addition, attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired.  Proposals must (i) have a testable hypothesis, (ii) include an associated plan for how the idea would be tested or validated, and (iii) yield interpretable and unambiguous data in Phase I, in order to be considered for Phase II funding.”

The following Condom Challenge Dos and Don’ts should also be of interest to anyone considering applying for a grant:

A few examples of work that would be considered for funding:

* Application of safe new materials that may preserve or enhance sensation;

* Development and testing of new condom shapes/designs that may provide an improved user experience;

* Application of knowledge from other fields (e.g. neurobiology, vascular biology) to new strategies for improving condom desirability.

We will not consider funding for:

* Exclusively non-technological, social, or educational interventions;

* Testing of existing commercially available products;

* Proposals without a clearly articulated hypothesis or plan for testing the proposed product’s value in overcoming adherence issues;

* Concepts that are inherently too expensive for a developing world setting;

* Concepts that would sacrifice the value of condoms for prevention of either unplanned pregnancy or HIV infection.

For more information, go here and here.