Founded by England’s former Chief Medical Officer, The Trinity Challenge is engineering a collaboration between health, technology and data, for the benefit of mankind.
Professor Dame Sally Davies could have stepped back from the frontlines of medicine when, after nine years as England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), she was appointed to serve as Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Now, the medical leader who had led Britain’s fight against Ebola and other pandemics at home and abroad, and who had taken a world-leading role in the ongoing fight against Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), could focus on scholarship and collegiate matters. Right?
Hardly. To call Davies driven would be something of an understatement. As the first woman to have held either of these posts, “I’ve always had to be the best to get the jobs,” Davies says in an interview with the Brunswick Review. “As women, we are often told that we can’t do something and we’re rebuffed. I’ve learned not to take it personally, but to come back the next day and try again.”
Her drive has led her toward ever-larger stages. As a clinical hematologist, she was the first UK physician to specialize in Sickle cell disease. During her time with the National Health Service, she lobbied for, and won the funding to create, the National Institute for Health Research, now a world-renowned medical-research body with annual budgets of over £1.3 billion ($1.7 billion). It transformed scientific and medical research in the country, and if that isn’t enough, she has driven reforms and innovations in global health through her role as the UK’s Special Envoy on AMR.
Soon after her arrival in Cambridge, COVID-19 emerged, proving that viral agents of mass destruction pay no attention to national borders. “As the pandemic set off, I was aware that we were not able to access all the data that policy makers needed, to inform their decision-making. And I was very keen that we should move forward and make a contribution.”
Recognizing the gaps in the data ecosystem made Davies realize that data, analytics and data science had a key role to play. In an effort to harness technology from all corners of the globe, Davies convened a coalition of 42 of the most renowned public, private, philanthropic and academic organizations, such as the University of Cambridge, Tencent, Bluedot Facebook, GSK, Microsoft, and Brunswick Group. This marked the founding of The Trinity Challenge (TTC).
In the autumn of 2020, TTC launched a global competition (the Challenge), inviting research teams from around the world to enter, aiming to find scalable technologies that could help the world identify, respond to and facilitate recovery from infectious disease outbreaks.
By medical research standards, the prize fund—£6 million ($8 million)—was extremely modest, when compared, for example, with the $18 billion put up by the US government to spur the creation of a COVID-19 vaccine. But the organizations behind Davies’ effort were devoting more than just funding to the cause—they were lending expertise and mentoring as well as access to technology.