German startup BioNTech is on the cutting edge of customised cancer vaccine development. The company, which has teamed up with biotech titan Genentech, is in the process of trialling the vaccines that may end up revolutionising the prevention and early treatment of 10 or more cancers maybe as early as later this year.
More people than ever are turning to vegetarian and vegan diets, or even a 'flexitarian' regime that includes some meat, but is largely vegetarian. So, the interest in and demand for meat-free alternatives that mimic the taste and texture of the real deal is booming. Plant-based meat is already widely available, and Beyond Meat, which produces this 'meat', had the most successful IPO for years back in May, scoring a valuation of $3.8 billion (£3bn). However, lab-grown meat is about a year away.
Gates is passionate about improving the health and quality of life for the 2.3 billion people globally who lack basic sanitation, according to the World Health Organization. Launched in 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative Reinvent the Toilet has spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding sanitation research and showcasing designs that process waste without a sewage system.
Educational establishments and companies have come up with some novel solutions, including the University of South Florida with its human waste converter turning energy and water from waste. But the race is still on to produce a cheap toilet that can operate without sewers. As well as improving and saving lives says Gates, the technology may help save $233 billion (£184bn) a year in costs related to diseases caused by poor sanitation.
The current crop of AI assistants – think Siri or Alexa – are still pretty limited in what they can do, but all is set to change in the near future. Advances in AI have resulted in the creation of cleverer virtual assistants that can master complex tasks, from taking meeting notes to making appointments.
Current examples include Google Duplex, which can make restaurant reservations and understand natural human conversation, and Alibaba’s AliMe, the Chinese e-commerce giant's customer service AI assistant. The intelligent chatbot can tackle all sorts of requests and deals with an impressive 95% of customer service queries. The technology is becoming so on point in fact that some people can't tell whether they're chatting with a robot or human being.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Maternal, Newborn & Child Health program is all about improving the health of expectant and new mother and babies, so it's no wonder Gates has included a near-miraculous blood test that can predict if an expectant mother will give birth prematurely.
Cheap to produce and administer, the test was developed by a team at California's Stanford University. It assesses the mother's blood levels for cell-free RNA, the molecule that carries genetic instructions, to work out the age of the baby and the risk of a premature birth. A spinoff startup called Akna Dx has been created to market it. A total of 15 million babies are born prematurely each year, and given premature birth is the leading cause of death in children under five, this new test has the potential to save countless lives.
Cleaner, safer and super-efficient next generation fission reactors are being developed by companies such as TerraPower, a company that Gates himself founded. In 2011 the company launched a project in China to develop a reactor that could use depleted uranium and not just enriched uranium. This could solve the nuclear waste issue, but US policy changes regarding China have prevented the pilot project from getting off the ground. Similarly startups like Commonwealth Fusion Systems and TAE Technologies are working hard on fusion and NuScale, an Oregon-based company, expects to deliver dinky modular reactors by 2025.