The following article was authored by Yazdan Yazdanpanah, Board Chair of the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) Association.
Thanks to the renewed commitment of the EU, European and African countries, together with the vital support of third parties, today we can celebrate the launching of the Global Health European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership Joint Undertaking (GH EDCTP3 JU). We need to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that the next decade is a new era for science collaboration, delivering on global commitments to end poverty-related infectious diseases.
Hidden behind this acronym ‘Global Health EDCTP3 JU’, is the largest research and development (R&D) partnership in the history of Africa-Europe cooperation. The GH EDCTP3 JU follows in the footsteps of its successful predecessors, to harness the scientific excellence of both continents to reduce the burden of poverty-related diseases such as HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and neglected tropical diseases (PRNDs).
To achieve its mission, the GH EDCTP3 JU will need strong and sustained support. Among other factors, it will be up to participating countries to make this shared vision a reality, by delivering commensurate contributions. Supporting a more enabling environment by strengthening and harmonising medicine regulatory systems, and expanding surveillance, research and manufacturing capacities in Africa, also remain essential to maximising the benefits of this partnership. There have been many important developments in these areas, but we cannot be complacent while hundreds of millions lack effective or available treatments.
PRNDs continue to pose a heavy burden on sub-Saharan Africa, and remain a major cause of death, disease and disability worldwide – a reality that, amidst a global pandemic and other major crises – struggles to get the attention it deserves. The GH EDCTP3 JU will pool resources to fund R&D for new and improved medical products, strengthen research capacities for preparedness and response and facilitate alignment and cooperation between EU countries, sub-Saharan African countries and collaborating entities, including industry and philanthropies.
With a planned budget of 1.6 billion euros for the next ten years, the GH EDCTP3 JU will build on over two decades of extensive collaboration to research, develop and evaluate medical products for unmet public health needs. Few commercial incentives exist to encourage R&D against poverty-related diseases, making the GH EDCTP3 JU one of the world’s largest investors in this area. Moreover, the GH EDCTP3 JU has a unique public governance model that ensures that African and European countries jointly shape the priorities of the partnership, demanding balanced geographic, thematic and gender representation in its various bodies.
EDCTP has contributed to notable successes in the field of poverty-related diseases, including:
- Advancing new therapies and vaccines against tuberculosis. TB is the largest infectious disease killer after COVID-19 and a major global health threat due to its increasing resistance to available treatments. EDCTP is one of the worlds’ largest investors in TB vaccine R&D and funded the first ‘Phase III’ trial of a new TB drug in over 40 years.
- Developing a new paediatric HIV treatment. One child dies of AIDS-related causes every five minutes. Despite this, only half of the children and adolescents living with HIV have access to antiretroviral therapy. EDCTP has supported a new child-friendly formulation against HIV with the potential to increase children’s access to this lifesaving treatment.
- Supporting the first malaria vaccine. Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) endorsed the first malaria vaccine for children at risk. This vaccine is the culmination of decades of R&D and has the potential to save thousands of children’s lives every year. Many investigators and institutions involved in this ground breaking discovery received EDCTP support.
- Building up the therapeutics pipeline for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). More than one billion people suffer from the devastating health, social and economic consequences of NTDs. Despite this, there are still no appropriate treatments for many NTDs. EDCTP has invested more than 70 million euros in the R&D of treatments for these conditions, including a ‘Phase III’ trial of a new paediatric treatment for schistosomiasis, a disease affecting more than 200 million people worldwide.
- Contributing to a better use of health technologies. The WHO publishes guidelines to assist public health authorities on how to use health technologies more safely and effectively, according to the latest scientific evidence. EDCTP-funded research has contributed to the development of a new WHO guideline for a simpler treatment for cryptococcal disease in people living with HIV, which decreases the toxicity and the monitoring requirements of the previous recommended treatments.
The GH EDCTP3 JU will build on these successes and continue to develop a robust clinical pipeline of health technologies to tackle poverty-related diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that when the international community joins forces, we can develop new effective health tools in record time. A vaccine against HIV or new ones for TB would be a game changer, and better therapeutics for NTDs would benefit hundreds of millions.
The GH EDCTP3 JU remains committed to supporting R&D for poverty-related diseases, and preparedness to avert future epidemics of these diseases – and others, as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals. Now we need to see the same commitment and support from European and African countries contributing to this great partnership.
Prof. Yazdan Yazdanpanah is the Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Agency (ANRS-MIE) and of the Institute I3M (Immunology, Inflammation, Infectiology, and Microbiology) in France. He currently Chairs the Board of the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) Association, and is a member of the Scientific Council for COVID-19 of French President Emmanuel Macron, among many other distinctions.
Photos: © EDCTP