Bill Gates reveals how he decides where to spend his billions

  • Bill Gates has sunk billions of dollars into vaccinations and therapies for the world's deadliest diseases.
  • At a recent conference, he explained how he goes after low-hanging fruit that few people have thought to grab.

Bill Gates has invested billions of dollars into solutions for the world's deadliest and most common diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV. His efforts have helped cut rates of child mortality, maternal mortality, hunger, and the overall prevalence of such ailments.

At the recent JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, the billionaire philanthropist shared with moderator Dr. Sanjay Gupta some of the specific strategies he uses to make these world-changing investments.

"If you're smart," Gates said, "you find the thing that is risky and hopefully before you do a phase I or phase II test" — two stages of the clinical trials that are used to assess drugs — "you have an understanding of what's going to to work. We're no different than anyone else."

Gates and his wife Melinda are cochairs of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization funds and coordinates research efforts to develop and deliver medicine to needy populations, typically those in developing countries.

Gates said one of his biggest strategies is to find ways to make big dents in infectious disease. He said there's "lots of low-hanging fruit out there," for which "there just hasn't been that much work done."

When it comes to malaria, for example, he told Gupta the current process is to run in-house human challenge trials. That means people can volunteer to take an intervention, typically some kind of tablet or pill, get bitten by a mosquito with malaria, and see if they get infected.

RELATED: Take a look at Bill Gates throughout the years: 

40 PHOTOS
Bill Gates through the years
See Gallery
Bill Gates through the years

Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates

(Doug Wilson/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his girlfriend Jill Bonnett. 

(Doug Wilson/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates Holding a CD-ROM

(Doug Wilson/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates

(Doug Wilson/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Microsoft president Bill Gates demonstrates Microsoft's Windows 95 program from his automobile prior to a press conference in Paris 04 September. Gates was also to meet 500 top computer executives as part of his campaign to launch the company's new software.

(Michel GANGN/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates visits an expo previewing Windows XP October 24, 2001 in New York City. The Windows XP operating system goes on sale worldwide October 25.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates testifies at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into whether the Microsoft computer empire is a monopoly that buries the competition.

(Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Bill Gates holds baby girl Cecil Massango during his visit to the Manhica Health Research Centre in Mozambique September 21, 2003. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced three grants totalling 168 million dollars to fight malaria, a disease that due to increased drug resistance, is on the rise in Africa for the first time in 20 years, killing more than one million people annually.

(REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya)

Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect at Microsoft, talks to reporters as Microsoft announced the general availability of the new Microsoft Office System, October 21, 2003 in New York City. "The new Office System is a major leap forward for information workers," said Gates, "It makes information work more productive and more profitable by offering innovative new ways to communicate, to find and share information, and to manage complex projects."

(REUTERS/Jeff Christensen)

Former US President Bill Clinton, left, speaks as Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft Corp. looks on during a session on the G-8 and Africa during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 27, 2005.

(Photo by Adam Berry/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates delivers the keynote speech at the fourteenth RSA conference at the Moscone Center February 15, 2005 in San Francisco, California. Gates spoke about internet security and new technology that can recognize spyware that might infiltrate a computer.

(Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Swatch CEO Nick Hayek and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates attend a press conference for the launch of the new Swatch line 'Paparazzi' by Swatch and Microsoft on October 20, 2004 in New York City.

(Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates smiles during a news conference in Madrid November 19, 2004. Gates signed a technology agreement with the Madrid regional government.

(REUTERS/Andrea Comas)

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates (L) shakes hands with singer Justin Timberlake during his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 4, 2006. Gates took the wraps off its next-generation operating system known as Windows Vista on Wednesday, displaying features aimed at positioning the software giant as the entertainment hub for a future of digitally connected homes.

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Bill Gates attends the Director's Brunch during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival a Sundance Resort on January 23, 2010 in Park City, Utah.

(Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images)

Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates (L) interacts with a villager in Aulali village, in Khagaria district of the eastern Indian state of Bihar, May 12, 2010. Gates is on a day-long visit to the state.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

Bill Gates, the coo-founder and former chief executive of Microsoft, celebrates his 60th birthday. He was born on October 28, 1955. --- In photo: Bill Gates during a press conference in Berlin, on January 29, 2013. 

 (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Microsoft founder Bill Gates makes a speech after receiving the Millennium Bambi during the Bambi 2013 media awards ceremony in Berlin November 14, 2013. The annual Bambi awards honours celebrities from the world of entertainment, literature, sports and politics.

(REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz)

Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft's co-founder Bill Gates delivers the 14th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on the eve of Mandela Day under the theme "Living Together" in his lecture at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, July 17, 2016.

(REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)

Bill Gates, the co-Founder of the Microsoft company and co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation makes a statement after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Presidential Palace on June 27, 2016 in Paris, France. Bill Gates mentioned in a short statement after his meeting with French President Francois Hollande that France was a great asset in the fight against AIDS.

(Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Billionaire Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, center, arrives at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson will be nominated as President-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state, setting up a potential confirmation battle with U.S. lawmakers who have questioned the oilman's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Melinda and Bill Gates during a ceremony in the White House East Room in Washington, U.S., November 22, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Chairman and Chief Software Architect for Microsoft Corporation Bill Gates delivers the opening keynote address for the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Las Vegas Hilton. Gates provided an overview of the latest devices and outlined the company's vision for the future by previewing upcoming products like Windows Vista.

(Photo by Chris Farina/Corbis via Getty Images)

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (R) talks with Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) (L) after testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee March 7, 2007 in Washington, DC. Gates called for more government spending in education and training, especially in high school math and science. He called high schools in their current form a barrier to success in the digital age.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

United States President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and daughter Barbara Bush and former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates attend the National Aquatics Center on Day 3 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 11, 2008 in Beijing, China.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Ludacris watch the USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team play against the Canadian National Team during the State Farm USA Basketball Challenge on July 25, 2008 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft speaks in Hong Kong on August 12, 2008. Gates was giving a speech at Microsoft Research Asia 10th Anniversary Innovation Forum.

(MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)

Bill Gates and director Pablo Larcuen attend the Director's Brunch during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival a Sundance Resort on January 23, 2010 in Park City, Utah.

(Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images)

Bill Gates tours and interacts with students in the engineering lab at Science Leadership Academy (SLA) prior to the 2010 Franklin Institute Awards held at The Franklin Institute on April 29, 2010 in Philadelphia City.

(Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates (R) shakes hands with France Finance and Economy Minister Christine Lagarde as he leaves the Elysee Palalce in Paris on April 4, 2011, after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gates is in visit to France for his foundation's Living Proof Project to highlight successes of US-funded global health initiatives.

(LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates poses on April 4, 2011 in Paris, as part of his campaign 'Living Proof' for the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.

(MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

Bill Gates founder of Microsoft and Bono, singer of U2 meet with President Francois Hollande of France at the Elys Palace to discuss humanitarian projects to fight poverty around the world and support economic development in poor countries.

(Photo by John van Hasselt/Corbis via Getty Images)

French President Francois Hollande (R) welcomes Bill Gates, the co-Founder of the Microsoft company and co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Fondation, at the Elysee Presidential Palace, in Paris, France, on April 1, 2014.

(ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, addresses the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington,DC on March 14, 2014.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON

Episode 0199

Pictured: (l-r) Bill Gates during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on January 21, 2015 

(Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Lin Manuel Miranda and Bill Gates pose backstage at the hit musical 'Hamilton' on Broadway at The Richard Rogers Theater on October 11, 2015 in New York City.

(Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Bill Gates, the co-Founder of the Microsoft company and co-Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation visits and speaks at the Solidays festival on June 26, 2015 in Paris, France. Bill Gates visited the 17th edition of the Solidays music festival, dedicated to the fight against AIDS.

(Photo by Francois Pauletto/Corbis via Getty Images)

Bill Gates attends the official opening of the Barberini Museum on January 20, 2017 in Potsdam, Germany. The Barberini, patronized by billionaire Hasso Plattner, features works by Monet, Renoir and Caillebotte among others.

(Photo by Axel Schmidt - Pool/Getty Images)

Bill Gates, billionaire and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, gestures as he speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 17 - 20.

(Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"If we can get the latest tools involved we can have a good chance at success," Gates said, referring to creating effective disease interventions. The Gates Foundation has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to groups like the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and the Medicines for Malaria Venture to develop solutions.

The method tracks with much of Gates' past investments, in that he has gone after diseases that afflict millions — sometimes billions — with the hope of saving the most lives possible with a single, targeted approach. Since 2000, malaria death rates in Africa have fallen by 57%, something Gates has called "one of the greatest success stories in the history of global health."

The Gates Foundation has invested in a host of companies that target malaria and other diseases afflicting the poorest parts of the world. At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Gates pointed to CureVac and Moderna, two companies that use RNA molecules to develop cancer therapies.

"This approach is also intriguing as a potential immunological intervention for HIV, malaria, flu, and the Zika virus," Gates said in his address at the conference. He went on to discuss possible interventions in neonatal mortality, which affects nearly 5 million kids annually.

Over time, Gates' strategy has remained mostly the same: Pick a disease that robs millions of people of their lives or livelihoods, and if a given intervention can go a long way toward reducing that suffering, chances are Gates classifies it as "promising."

NOW WATCH: I tried the 7-minute workout for a month — here's what happened

More from Business Insider: 
The Dutch plan to build the world's biggest wind farm, complete with a large floating island 
7 health benefits of Silicon Valley's favorite diet — a high-fat fad that has techies eating bacon and butter 
Psychiatrists studied 400 movies to find the most realistic psychopath — here are their 6 key takeaways

SEE ALSO: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs raised their kids tech-free — and it should've been a red flag

Read Full Story