The initial exploratory phase had a two-pronged goal:
- getting insight into the field and the capacity of players therein: e.g. number and type of organizations, their relationships with internationally active teams, innovative approaches that could be pursued, funds needed; and
- assessing the importance of Foundation’s grants to that end, their potential effectiveness and consistency with the Foundation’s philanthropic mission.
For that dual purpose in November 2008 a Call for Ideas was launched. 31 proposals were submitted by 49 Italian and foreign research organizations (113 different research teams) that were the members of partnerships whose lead organizations were based in Fondazione Cariplo’s constituency. The scientific content of the proposals submitted spanned the various aspects involved in vaccine research: pathogens’ biology, immunity and host-pathogen interactions, antigen selection, adjuvants, vectors, immunization pathways.
The proposals received were vetted focusing on the scientific quality of the proposal, the proposing partnerships as well as the financial effort required. Additionally, the Foundation’s intervention was assessed in terms of feasibility – i.e., financial outlay required and consistency with the Foundation’s philanthropic mission – and effectiveness – i.e., actual innovation content of the proposals and their expected impact on vaccine research.
To assess the scientific value of the proposals the Foundation availed itself of the assistance of a panel of experts that conducted a double-blind peer review (the experts did not know who the authors of the proposals were and vice versa). The review highlighted the good scientific quality of the proposals, the presence of projects standing out for their innovativeness or concrete prospects of yielding results that could later be further investigated in clinical trials and ultimately lead to the production of new vaccines.
Gathered proposals featured:
- quality of research and proposals that distinguished themselves for their innovativeness
- focus on target diseases that pose major challenges to global health and/or public health in developing countries
- proposals with high potential to reach clinical development and lead to production of new vaccines
- need for basic research support generally not met by public funding, aligned with the philanthropic mission of the Foundation.