Google.org pledges $14M toward Larry Brilliant's 2006 TED Prize wish

2006 TED Prize winner Larry Brilliant just got a major push toward realizing his wish to build a global system for early disease and disaster detection. Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, where Brilliant serves as executive director, today announced that it would put $14 million toward the goal of preventing the next global pandemic. The hope is that the use of powerful technology like high-resolution satellite imagery will help identify areas in developing countries where infectious diseases might be about to take hold. Working with local authorities, scientists can intervene to nip disaster in the bud, before the microbes spread.

“Business as usual won’t prevent the next AIDS or SARS,” said Larry Brilliant in a statement. “The teams we’re funding today are on the frontiers of digital and genetic early-detection technology, and their work will help solve centuries-old problems and hopefully save millions of lives.”

Six organizations will be recipients of the grant, including the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, headed by Dr. Nathan Wolfe, whose $5.5M from Google.org will be matched by TEDster Jeff Skoll’s foundation.

“On every continent, viruses move from animals into people. GVFI’s mission is to monitor this viral exchange. Working in animal markets, with restaurant workers, and with hunters at the end of the road, we sort through this traffic to try to stop deadly diseases before they spread,” said Dr. Nathan Wolfe, the founder and director of GVFI.

In an article in USA Today, Brilliant underscores the urgency of his mission — at a time when the global economic downturn could tempt governments to cut back on public health spending: “Nature has her own timetable. She doesn’t watch Dow Jones. We are inevitably and inexorably moving toward a pandemic.”

Them’s fighting words. — Sierra Feldner-Shaw