On the 24th of January a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a fellowship scheme for clinical researchers was signed between the research-based drug companies in Europe (EFPIA) and the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP). This innovative initiative will give sub-Saharan African researchers the possibility to be placed in a European-based pharmaceutical company for up to two years to develop skills in clinical trial research. Furthermore, in order to make the programme a success, both organisations are cooperating with the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission.
EDCTP focuses on clinical trials of new or improved drugs, vaccines, microbicides and diagnostics for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Since its creation in 2003 as a European response to the global health crisis caused by these three main poverty-related diseases, Vaccines Europe member companies have been highly involved in EDCTP’s initiatives.
In this regard, 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.
The initiative 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 and to further promote research capacity for conducting clinical trials in Africa in accordance with the highest international standards. 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.
Richard Bergström, the Director General of EFPIA said: “This is a great opportunity for all parties involved. EFPIA’s members will benefit from interaction with African scientists from diverse backgrounds beneficial to the development of new or improved treatments in poverty-related diseases. We hope to help them acquire skills relevant to achieving their research and professional goals”.
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.
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.