As part of an innovative new programme between research-based drug companies in Europe and the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), a fellowship scheme for clinical researchers will offer placements in companies which conduct trials to the highest international standards.
This is the first time such an agreement has been signed between European and African partners and paves the way for deeper cooperation in future.
According to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the EDCTP and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), signed in Brussels yesterday, African scientists with an interest in clinical trials will be hosted at research centres run by European-based pharmaceutical companies where they will work with experienced experts.
The move is part of the EDCTP’s capacity-building efforts and is designed to equip clinical researchers from sub-Saharan Africa with specific skills related to the design, conduct and analysis of clinical trials.
The EDCTP’s focus is on clinical trials of new or improved drugs, vaccines, microbicides and diagnostics for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The fellowships will offer training opportunities in clinical research beyond what could be gained from academic study or employment in Africa, according to the MoU.
EFPIA represents the biggest names in research-based medicines sector, including Europe’s largest vaccine companies.
The MoU has the potential to open the way for closer links between European vaccine companies and scientists in sub-Saharan Africa. Pharmaceutical firms are expected to benefit from working with scientists from diverse backgrounds which could help the development of new or improved medicines and vaccines.
Scientists taking part in the fellowship scheme will be able to return to their home institutions in Africa and apply new knowhow. Conscious of the need to keep talent in Africa, host companies in Europe will agree not to hire participating research fellows for two years after their placement.
In addition to the proposed fellowship scheme, EDCTP and EFPIA said they recognise the need and demand for opportunities to send or second European researchers from pharmaceutical companies to train for brief periods with African researchers in African research institutions and other relevant settings.
Launching the programme, EFPIA Director General Richard Bergstrom said the collaborative model of advancing and applying science is here to stay. He said capacity building in Africa through partnerships with organisations such as EDCTP is strategically important for the European medicines sector if the industry is to turn new science into new products.
Europe has much to learn from the “disruptive innovation” taking place in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, Mr Bergtrom said.
Charles Mgone, EDCTP Executive Director, said the fellowships would give African experts hands-on experience not taught in universities in Africa – or in Europe.
“Conducting clinical trials to the highest international standard in sub-Saharan Africa can be difficult. There is a lack of expertise and manpower, and the environment can be challenging in terms of ethics and regulatory review,” Dr Mgone said.
“There are some areas of clinical trials that industry is best at – practical things like budgeting and protocol writing – which cannot be learned in medical school.”
He said the new fellowship programme is a good start to what he hopes will be further developments in capacity building and partnerships between Europe and Africa.
Dr Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, who heads up the health unit at the European Commission’s research directorate, said concrete partnerships of this kind have the potential to deliver new vaccines and medicines.
The European Commission is currently working on its next research funding programme, known as Horizon 2020, and hopes to build on the success of collaborative projects like the EDCTP and the Innovative Medicines Initiative.