The European Union could raise its funding contribution from the €200 million spent so far to €1 billion in the next phase of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP).
The offer is conditional on approval of the European Commission’s budget proposals for 2014-20 and on funding commitments made by other parties, including EU Member States, African countries, industry and charities.
It was made by Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn at a conference in Cape Town, South Africa, on the second EDCTP programme. The next phase begins in 2014, in parallel with the EU’s new programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020.
Diseases of poverty
Originally set up in 2003, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership aims to reduce the burden of poverty-related diseases in sub-Saharan Africa by pooling resources for clinical trials to develop new interventions against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
The EDCTP currently supports 196 research projects, including 57 clinical trials that have enrolled more than 100 000 patients in total.
Geoghegan Quinn described the partnership in Cape Town as “a brilliant success story for EU-Africa research cooperation” that has become “a key player in the global health arena” within a decade.
It is also “a fine example of a principle that we advocate in Europe: to open our research and innovation to worldwide collaboration”, she added.
The EDCTP has “proved spectacularly good at this”, with projects involving 42 institutions in Europe and 156 in Africa. In all, 75% of the funding has gone to African institutions and 70% of projects have been led by African researchers.
The Partnership has further contributed to building knowledge, research capacity and research systems across sub-Saharan Africa, Geoghegan Quinn noted.
More than 300 junior and senior African scientists have been trained under the programme, while the EDCTP has helped to establish institutions such as the African Vaccine Regulators Forum and the Pan-African Clinical Trial Registry.
It has also assisted in setting up national ethics committees in Benin, Mozambique, Rwanda and Gabon. Eight EDCTP projects have already resulted in improved policy guidelines or recommendations for clinical practice.
Asking a lot
EU funding for the next phase of the EDCTP will come out of Horizon 2020, which still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and EU Member States.
Geoghegan Quinn also acknowledged that the Commission is asking a lot of other stakeholders at a time when many countries on Europe are facing severe economic problems.
The €400 million of public money invested in phase one of the Partnership has been a “huge commitment” but “a worthwhile one when we remember that more than one billion people, including 400 million children, suffer from one or more of the target diseases”, she said.
And as well as appealing to altruism and “the value of a shared human endeavour to reduce suffering in low and middle income countries”, the EDCTP has benefits closer to home, Geoghegan Quinn pointed out.
“Europe faces new or returning threats of infectious diseases. If we fight the most important sources of the infectious agents, we help safeguard public health in many parts of the world.”
The EDCTP is also cost-efficient, by co-ordinating national and European efforts to combat the target diseases, Geoghegan Quinn asserted.
“And efficient, because the contribution from the European Union and European governments acts as a magnet for co-financing from other private organisations and foundations – 80 million euro so far,” she added. “But I want this private contribution to increase massively.”
She urged industry in particular to get involved, noting with approval that the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) has developed a joint clinical research fellowship programme with the EDCTP.
“Clinical trials are incredibly expensive, and few – if any – organisations, private or public, are able or willing to invest in a full clinical development programme for poverty-related products, where the return on investment may be limited,” Geoghegan Quinn told the conference.