A very wide range of organisations were represented on the panel for the Forum’s third plenary session on the next EDCTP programme. They were all charged with the same task – to give their views on the future of EDCTP and the development of a third stage of the programme.
The first speaker was Detlef Böcking on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. He said that EU member states were very willing to consider continuing to work together on the issues addressed by EDCTP but it was not yet possible to know what decisions will be reached. ‘We are now talking to each other and finding out what we are all doing’ he said, noting that this dialogue should be further strengthened. Although sceptical about formal alignment of national research programmes, he was optimistic about the practical and very real ‘alignment’ driven by international scientific collaboration and common global health objectives.
An African perspective then came from Khadija Yahya-Malima, from the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH). We need to persuade politicians to commit funding to research but how, she asked, can we do this? To influence decision makers, we must translate scientific output into terms of societal benefits, using a different and politically more persuasive language which emphasises the social and economic benefits. Thus we need to state in simple language how many lives we have we saved, and how many days off work we have prevented. Likewise we must also talk to people in villages and other communities in an appropriate language if we want them to adopt the new treatments that arise from our research. She added that in this there was a role for the representatives in the EDCTP General Assembly. They are in a good position to try and persuade governments to provide more resources for health research.
Lisa Goerlitz returned to the theme of the value that EDCTP could add to the Horizon Europe programme. Ideally, the EU should support all phases of research but currently most funding is going to earlier stage studies. EDCTP’s focus on trials will help to achieve more balanced funding. The emphasis EDCTP gives to synergy and involving African nations also adds value. So far, she added, the EU does not have a proper global health strategy. She looks forward to the day such a strategy is developed!
Wim Parys of Janssen brought an industry viewpoint. He stressed that pharmaceutical manufacturers are ’totally committed’ to bringing new treatments to people in Africa. As EDCTP’s second programme has progressed, we have seen increased industry participation and he hopes this will continue. EDCTP offers the industry a chance to collaborate with different partners – ‘We need to learn more from first-hand experience in Africa’. Areas of particular importance were capacity building, technology to improve implementation and product development. He believes that fellowship programmes could and should be strengthened. Much can be learned from African students; local knowledge can help faster implementation and adoption of new treatments. The industry does want to see more use of generic drugs in Africa but needs a return to make this sustainable: ‘If there is no reward for innovation then there will be no innovation’! Africa also needs innovation and new products.
Alexandra Fullem, global health consultant, spoke from the perspective of product development partnerships. At least 10 PDPs are active in the area of poverty-related diseases and they have launched over 35 new products in last decade. PDPs are very happy to work with EDCTP, commenting that it has become easier under the second programme than under the first. In EDCTP3 rational and flexible funding of all stages of product development will be essential. We must take into account the potential gains to be achieved from each new product.
Community advocate Flaviah Namuwaya (Uganda), who has lived with HIV since her birth, said that people like her have benefited from science but communities now need to participate more actively in research. The focus should be not just on treatment but on prevention. We need to get African governments on our side and investing in health research. EDCTP and others here at this meeting can help put pressure on governments. Communities are doing more advocacy work and should be included in the capacity building too. “Build also the capacity of communities; we know what the needs are!”
Simon Kay of the Wellcome Trust agreed with the many important points already raised. Wellcome has three research centres in Africa and supports the African Academy of Sciences. It is developing a capacity building platform. Funding is given to other programmes too. Wellcome is both a long-term and a patient funder. He is proud of what Wellcome has done but has been ‘awed’ by some of EDCTP’s achievements. Drugs are Wellcome’s main focus but other areas are also included, such as epidemic preparedness. Wellcome’s interests intersect with EDCTP’s; some Wellcome programmes have attracted EDCTP funding. He identified some priority challenges, including: how to get resources into countries that currently do not well in competitive funding; boosting training programmes; and improving coordination between agencies. Wellcome is working with the London School of Economics to find persuasive arguments to get governments to invest more in health research. More decision making should be done in Africa and be driven by African concerns: “This means that we will need to give up some of our autonomy!”
Participants speaking from the audience echoed the view that the case for more investment in health research does need to be made on both social and economic grounds. The role of communities should be given more attention; people like Flaviah Namuwaya should put the stories to those in power. Information must be made widely available, so generic manufacturers can become involved. There is still a need for geographical expansion of EDCTP’s activities, particularly to Lusophone countries such as Guinea-Bissau.