By Mary Hearty

Kenya will host a two-day East Africa regional stakeholder workshop aimed at discussing the potential of personalized medicine (PM) in East Africa as well as the challenges and opportunities for collaboration with Europe.

PM, according to the European Commission, is a new medical model that is used to characterize individuals’ genes, in order to tailor the right therapeutic strategy for the right person at the right time; to determine their vulnerability to disease as well as to deliver timely and targeted prevention.

The workshop scheduled to take place from 13th to 14th July, 2022 will be hosted by the National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) with contribution from the European Union (EU) and Africa Personalised Medicines (PerMed) consortium members.

EU-Africa PerMed is a project funded by the European Commission H2020 programme that has the final objective of integrating more African countries in the global Personalised Medicine (PM) research agenda by facilitating their participation in the activities of the International Consortium for Personalised Medicine ( ICPerMed ) and by strengthening the research collaboration between Africa and Europe in areas of mutual interest.

The workshop aims to bring together key stakeholders from the East African region including health system policy makers, research and innovation (R&I) funding agencies and councils, health care providers, researchers, scientific societies, industry, regional, technology developers and international organizations drawn from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

During the scientific and policy mapping exercise carried out by the project, these countries were found to have capacity in PM research with R&I governance structures in place.

Specifically, the workshop will:

  1. Review the landscape of PM in East Africa
  2. Identify and prioritize areas of interest in the region
  3. Identify gaps and needs for developing identified areas of interest
  4. Reflect on consortium models for developing PM in the region (governance, funding, partnerships, training program, etc.) and on national level
  5. Identify challenges and opportunities for collaboration within Africa and with Europe

Consequently, the workshop is expected to feed into the project activities of carrying out the identification of PM needs and organisation in Africa, using a region-based approach, with the final expected outcome being defining an Action Plan for EU-AU collaboration in PM.

In addition, the workshop will help participants to better understand the potential benefits of developing PM in the region and what are the key enablers that can facilitate this development, raise awareness about the opportunities for cross border collaboration and stimulate networking activities within East Africa stakeholders in the field of PM.

The first PM Stakeholder workshop was organized on 9-10th February 2022, to discuss the perception of PM in Africa, main challenges and opportunities of PM in Africa, and the potential advantages of a closer collaboration with Europe in integrating local knowledge and practice.

During this workshop, the regional approach appeared to be the preferred mode among participants for advancing PM in Africa on various levels: for developing the PM agenda, building collaborations, structuring platforms and scientific hubs, strengthening regulatory frameworks and developing regional strategies.

On the other hand, a national approach was considered to be more relevant for priority setting, implementation and allocation of resources. It was thus decided to organize regional workshops for continuing the exchanges on PM development in Africa, including concerning potential for collaborations between Africa and Europe.

Exploring this new model is critical as the World Bank notes that Africa continues to experience a comparatively high burden of disease, particularly in TB, Malaria, HIV/AIDS and neglected diseases, affecting an estimated one billion people, and leading to annual productivity loss of over USD 800 billion. Moreover, the COVID 19 pandemic has extremely widened healthcare inequities, and greatly impacted on African economies.