Scientists who attended the 5th African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI) stakeholders meeting in Kenya last month (23-25 November) said that only 0.22 per cent of patents worldwide are filled by African innovators.
Highlighting the need to support health innovation in Africa, Solomon Nwaka, executive director of Ethiopia-headquartered ANDI, said African institutions are not working together in a concerted way to solve the health challenges facing the continent due to lack of coordination and financing, among other factors.
“Strong African education centres can make significant impact in healthcare delivery if they are networked to solve the health challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
James Macharia, Kenya
“However, strong African education centres can make significant impact in healthcare delivery if they are networked to solve the health challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Nwaka added.
According to Nwaka, African centres of excellence focus on research and development (R&D) that can address local health needs but lack sustained support to translate research into policy and health products, apart from also lacking mechanisms to translate discoveries and technologies that emerge from African laboratories into products.
“ANDI’s focus is to fill a critical gap by driving local innovations through the so-called ‘valley of death‘, which will lead to eventual commercialisation and [public health] impact,” said Nwaka, adding that ANDI also promotes human resource development and job creation, thus contributing to development.
However, Nwaka said such technologies must meet local needs, including affordability, accessibility and quality standards, citing the reformulation of Niprisan for the treatment of sickle cell disease in Nigeria, the first medicine from African herbal medicines to receive US Food and Drug Administration orphan drug certification.
According to the US FDA, an orphan drug is pharmaceutical product that a sponsor requests to treat rare disease or condition.
James Macharia, then Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health said collaborations should aim at achieving synergy and efficiency, taking into consideration the availability of resources, awareness on the needs, challenges and opportunities for health innovation in Africa.
“Our main focus should be on addressing Africa’s health needs by harnessing the untapped power of collaboration among African researchers and entrepreneurs as well as equitable North-South and South-South partnership, with the vision of creating a sustainable platform for health innovation in Africa to address health challenges and population needs,” Macharia said. Sanaa Botros, emeritus professor of pharmacology, Theodor Bilharz Research Institute, Egypt, said there is need for a gap and need assessment and the identification of potential projects. The implementation of sustainable processes and supporting market entry of such technologies are equally important, explained Botros.
“Effective alliance building will help to facilitate and support the development of local technologies with potential to positively impact and transform healthcare delivery in Africa and other developing countries,” said Botros, urging governments, the private sector and inventors to come together and build technology platforms to freely share information in different hubs.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.