Brussels, 02 Sep 2003
EU Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin has called on African governments to lend their support to the European developing countries clinical trials partnership (EDCTP).
The EDCTP initiative, launched recently under the Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), aims at developing affordable drugs to treat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis through a new kind of partnership between Europe and developing countries. The five year budget for the programme is 600 million euro, with 200 million coming from the EU, 200 million from national research programmes and 200 million from the private sector.
Speaking to African health ministers at the World Health Organisation regional conference in Johannesburg on 1 September, Mr Busquin highlighted the need to work closely together in order to fight AIDs, malaria and tuberculosis, pointing to the EDCTP as an important driver in building such a partnership. 'The 600 million euro research programme [...] is a unique opportunity for African and European researchers to join forces in fighting the world's worst epidemic.'
The EDCTP partnership is also the largest and most ambitious clinical trial programme to take place on African soil. As part of its mandate, the programme aims to reinforce the clinical research capacities of the African countries involved by providing adequate training to the researchers and doctors on the ground. In the medium term, the first series of clinical trials will be launched in regions where poverty-related diseases are pandemic, while in the long term, the initiative aims to develop new treatment and affordable vaccines that are adapted to the needs of the African population.
In short, the EDCTP programme foresees 'clinical research in Africa, for Africans and with African scientists,' claimed the Commissioner.
However, in order to ensure its success, Mr Busquin emphasised the need for further political commitment from the governments of the developing countries involved in the project. In particular, he highlighted a number of actions that would help support the EDCTP goals. One such action is the development of a specialised national scientific training programme to provide doctors, pharmacists and laboratory technicians with the skills necessary for working in clinical research. 'This would help build capacity and avoid brain drain,' said the Commissioner.
Mr Busquin also suggested that by making the fight against malaria, AIDs and tuberculosis a national priority - within the context of a policy for global development - developing countries could benefit from further funding from the European structural funds. 'Obtaining additional funding will help not only to reinforce the infrastructures of clinical research centres, it will also enable these centres to be used as reference laboratories for regional health institutes,' he claimed.
Other possible actions include the development of a closer working partnership between regional health and research centres so as to ensure access to treatment for participants once the trials have been completed, as well as access to validated vaccines and medicines for the local population.
Mr Busquin surmised that by lending political support in such a way and fully engaging in the EDCTP programme 'future generations will have medicines and vaccines at their disposition, and thanks to our joint efforts, they will carry a lighter load than their parents.'
Other news, which is expected to alleviate the burden of developing countries, is the long awaited endorsement in the World Trade Organisation of a deal to improve access to medicines for developing countries. Under the new compromise, developing countries will be entitled to import pharmaceutical products, provided they have no or insufficient manufacturing capacity for the product in question.