Over 200 African scientists from 34 countries met in Nairobi, Kenya, from 19 to 23 September at an international conference organised by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) to engender greater regional research partnership to combat the most neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness, kala azar and malaria. Since the first meeting calling for greater research cooperation in 2003, significant progress has been made. Clinical research platforms for kala azar and sleeping sickness have been established on the continent, and African scientists have contributed to the clinical trials of a new drug for malaria.
“This meeting of the best scientific minds will consolidate the endeavour of African researchers to work together in the search for new drugs to fight neglected diseases,” remarked Dr. Enoch Kibunguchy, Assistant Minister of Health of Kenya.
New drugs and diagnostics are desperately needed: Only 1.3% (21 out of 1,556) of new drugs developed over 30 years was for neglected tropical diseases and tuberculosis, even though these diseases account for 12% of the global disease burden. But capacity for R&D in developing countries is limited, in part due to the remoteness and geographical spread of patients with neglected diseases, which has led to a serious lack of research of innovative medicines for this population.
At the three-day long conference, two regional clinical research platforms were convened, one on sleeping sickness (the HAT, or Human African Trypanosomiasis Platform) and the other on kala azar (LEAP, or Leishmaniasis in East Africa Platform). Members of the clinical research platforms are scientists and policy makers from seven African countries who come together to share knowledge and expertise on these diseases (see HAT Platform for more information).
“Developing countries have the ability to provide new solutions for neglected diseases, but every day we face an uphill battle to find home-grown capacity for research and development into diseases that affect our poor,” said Dr Davy Koech, Director Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). “By working together in regional, needs-driven research platforms, we are not only on the way to addressing the lack of capacity, but also helping in the trials for new drugs,” he added.
Another sub-meeting of the conference focused on Fixed-dose Artesunate-based Combination Therapies (FACT) for chloroquine-resistant malaria. DNDi and its partners will bring a new, easy to use, ACT artesunate / amodiaquine combination therapy to patients in Africa. Most of the patients on the new treatment will need to take just one tablet a day for three days.
“To meet our aim of developing new, field-adapted treatments that meet the specific needs of neglected patients, we need to work closely with scientific experts from endemic countries,” remarked Dr. Bernard Pecoul, Executive Director of DNDi. “They have greater insight into neglected diseases and the needs of patients.”