Mental and neurological illnesses are the world’s biggest unmet medical need, affecting 1 in 4 people and resulting in $3 trillion in annual global costs. In low and middle income countries, more than 75% of people with mental health conditions receive no treatment, amounting to a global burden that has been exacerbated by COVID-19. However, these massive costs mean that investing in addressing brain health is highly cost-effective: US$1 invested for depression and anxiety alone returns US$3-5 in better health and ability to work.
Co-Chaired by One Mind Chairman Garen Staglin and President of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine Victor Dzau, HBGI is a collaboration between global leaders in neuroscience, policy, and finance. The coalition aims to leverage innovative investment approaches to improve the lives of people affected by neurological and mental health challenges. Planning efforts for this initiative are currently underway with a formal launch planned for 2021.
HBGI’s Interim Board includes representation from the ministries of health in Rwanda and Singapore, the Wellcome Trust, Johnson & Johnson, Google’s X (the Moonshot Factory), the University of New South Wales, and the community groups Ganizo (Zambia) and Tarakī (U.K.). Acting as Interim CEO is Brad Herbert, who brings more than 40 years’ experience in international development, including as the first Chief of Operations at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, where he was responsible for setting up the organization’s multi-billion-dollar grant program in over 130 countries.
HBGI will also feature a Lived Experience Council to guide leadership in creating sustainable structures that ensure meaningful lived experience interaction throughout the organization.
Initial Research Focus: Brain development and disorders in young adults
While HBGI will eventually address brain health conditions across the lifespan, the initial focus will be on the developing brains of people from ages 10-29.
Studies suggest that ¾ of mental health problems emerge and key neurological conditions can take root during adolescence and young adulthood, highlighting a clear need for brain health research specific to this age range. Despite this need, there has historically been less investment in research for this age range than for their younger or older counterparts.
HBGI will usher in a paradigm shift from a siloed, underfunded and poorly representative research ecosystem to a multidisciplinary, harmonized, and global scale model.
HBGI will capitalize on technological tools that make this shift newly possible, pursuing two lines of research:
- For brain health conditions without effective treatment, HBGI will fund basic and translational research towards prevention, diagnostics and treatments.
- For conditions with treatments that have not achieved their potential impact, HBGI will fund implementation research to scale delivery.
Towards these ends, HBGI will support:
- Global infrastructure for rapid, iterative, and harmonized research that puts those with lived experience at the center, with a focus on underrepresented geographies
- Interdisciplinary, large scale projects designed to address the problems of our most complex organ, the brain, situated in the most complex of systems, society
- Open sharing of well designed methods, biological samples, and data so that scientific investments rapidly lead to brain health and mental wellbeing
HBGI will leverage unprecedented financing models to supplement government basic science funding and private sector product development.
HBGI will mobilize US$10 billion through a two-pronged strategy:
- Building the evidence base on the importance of investing in brain health research and the expected returns on these investments
- Leveraging increasing investor appetite for socially-oriented product offerings in a market environment that is conducive to borrowing
New Life Trajectories
HBGI will support the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goal: “reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.”
With respect to HBGI’s initial focus on adolescents and young adults, the initiative will particularly focus on six areas that have the highest disease burden and impact on human capital formation, the greatest degree of underfunding, and the biggest opportunity to make a difference:
- depressive disorders
- anxiety disorders
- bipolar disorder
- epilepsy (particularly in low- and middle-income countries)
- traumatic brain injuries