We cannot look back on the progress of our partnerships in 2019 without acknowledging the unprecedented challenges we are facing as this report goes to print.
Over the first months of 2020, COVID-19 has overwhelmed some of the world’s most advanced health systems. As we write, the capacity of weaker health systems to manage a surge of severe cases is extremely limited, and the low availability of PPE for front-line healthcare workers in some areas means that these key staff are likely to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 research studies are taking place in high-income countries. To help protect vulnerable communities in resource-limited settings, DNDi is mobilizing its networks to make sure their specific needs are prioritized in medical R&D for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments.
“On behalf of the German Government I wish to express my gratitude that we could intensify our long-lasting collaboration with DNDi in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic underlines the necessity of a global approach and shows the advantages of instruments such as product development partnerships. I am confident that DNDi’s work will speed delivery of reliable and accessible drugs and tools to all people, including the most vulnerable.”Anja Karliczek, Minister, German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
Leveraging the power of collaboration
DNDi co-launched the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition in early April 2020 to help fast-track desperately needed research for low-resource settings. More than 250 member representatives from 168 institutions in 56 countries have joined so far, working to complement the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other stakeholders researching new tools for COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in resource-limited settings. With leadership from experts in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), members are focused on streamlining complex processes and addressing critical concerns such as ethics review, regulation, manufacturing, clinical trials support and logistics, data sharing, and ensuring equitable and affordable access to new tools.
“Efforts to enhance research capacity, exchange know-how, standardize data collection, and share results rapidly are critical to developing and deploying the tools we need to protect health workers and communities in low-and middle-income countries.”Professor Sir Nicholas J. White, Chair of Wellcome’s South East Asian Research Units (Thailand and Vietnam), and Chair of DNDi’s Scientific Advisory Committee
Conducting research where it’s needed
DNDi and several expert groups from the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition have joined forces in preparing to launch the ANTICOV clinical trial in about 15 African countries. The goal is to identify one or two treatments that can be used to treat mild and moderate cases of COVID-19 early and prevent mass hospitalizations that could wreak havoc on fragile health systems. Led by the ANTICOV Consortium, the trial will compare the current standard of care with other existing repurposed treatments. Additional drugs could be added as the study advances, as the trial is designed to be able to add new potential treatments as they become available or to drop any treatments that are not working. Up to 3,000 patients with mild COVID-19 across over 20 sites could be included.
“It is important that as Africans we do more than just apply the existing scientific knowledge about COVID-19. We should be part of the group that creates this knowledge.”Dr Evans Amukoye, Director of Scientific Programmes, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)
Advocating for accountability
DNDi’s expertise in developing and making treatments available in resource-limited settings is relevant to the COVID-19 response in many ways. As the world mobilizes billions of dollars in unprecedented funding to fight the pandemic, we’re using this expertise to advocate for six commitments that will help make sure that resulting medical advances will also reach people in LMICs:
- Target funding and intensify scientific collaboration for research to address the needs of resource-limited settings;
- Ensure researchers, public health experts, civil society, and political leaders from Africa, Asia, and Latin America are part of decision making and the global search for treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines
- 100% open science – publishing results and data in the open, in real time – because it improves efficiency and accelerates scientific progress;
- Make health tools public goods, free of intellectual property restrictions, to ensure affordability and large-scale production
- Up-front agreements to ensure sufficient production, equitable allocation, and affordable pricing;
- Full transparency on public R&D funding to ensure that both governments and funding recipients are accountable for R&D investments and how they are used.
- “Global coalition to accelerate COVID-19 clinical research in resource-limited settings” – The Lancet
In a comment published in The Lancet in April 2020, a group of scientists, physicians, funders, and policy makers from over 70 institutions in over 30 countries pledged their support for the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition.
- “Africa’s COVID-19 research must be tailored to its realities – by its own scientists” – The Guardian
Director of DNDi Africa, Dr Monique Wasunna, highlights the urgent need for an African-led clinical research agenda for COVID-19 that prioritizes the specific needs of African patients and front-line medical staff.
Photo credit: KEMRI; Xavier Vahed-DNDi