African Science Initiative

WACCBIP Research Conference 2019: Top global scientists call for investment in biotechnology to solve healthcare challenges in Africa

Top global scientists call for investment in biotechnology to solve healthcare challenges in Africa.

More than two hundred scientists from the world’s leading research institutions are meeting this week at a conference organised by the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) to share research focused on finding solutions to healthcare challenges in Africa.

The three-day conference, hosted at the University of Ghana, will also feature leading innovators from the biomedical industry, including Mr. Stephen Isaacs, Chairman & C.E.O of leading US-based biotechnology company, Aduro Biotech. 

Relevant research

Speaking at the opening ceremony held on July 24, the Deputy Minister for Health, Hon. Alexander Kodwo Kom Abban, congratulated WACCBIP for creating the platform for building partnerships that would support the context-specific research needed to solve local health challenges.

“As a Ministry, we are always keen to impress that the research conducted in our institutions is directed at specific local needs. Research would be pointless if it does not go to alleviate the immediate challenges of our people,” Hon. Abban said. “We always encourage our researchers to find relevance to our context in their search for answers to our health challenges. I am pleased to see that this Conference does exactly that.”

The Deputy Minister was impressed by the Centre’s growth over the last five years. He explained that WACCBIP had performed beyond expectation, remarking that its successes were a major reason for the renewal of the World Bank funding that started the Centre in 2014.

Prestigious funding

WACCBIP has attracted support from some of the most prestigious funding regimes in the world, according to Prof. Samuel Kwame Offei, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Academic and Students Affairs at the University of Ghana.

“WACCBIP has all but become the perfect example of the immense contribution that these centres [of excellence] can make towards achieving our goal of becoming a world-class University,” Prof. Offei said. “The Centre has attracted significant funding from the World Bank through its African Centres of Excellence project and the Wellcome Trust through the DELTAS initiative… two of the most prestigious capacity-building facilities in the last decade, and WACCBIP is the only programme that has won both.”

Academy and industry

Prof. Gordon Awandare, Director of WACCBIP, said the Centre aimed to provide a platform for building partnerships between industry and academia to improve healthcare innovation. He said the growth of WACCBIP was due to the academic partnerships that the Centre has leveraged over the five years of its establishment and that it was essential to maintain the Centre’s growth by extending its network of partnerships to industry.

“WACCBIP was built on partnerships…and we have leveraged these partnerships to forge one of the strongest networks in Africa,” Prof. Awandare said. “We have made incredible progress over the last five years in building the human resource base for conducting high-quality biomedical research. Now, we have to work with industry partners towards translating the research into innovations that will solve our specific healthcare challenges; innovations we have the capacity to produce here at WACCBIP.”

He called for government and the private sector to invest in biotechnology, remarking that there is enough evidence to suggest positive returns in the form of potentially life-saving technology spearheaded by the research scientists the country is producing.

Biotechnology in Africa

Mr. Stephen Isaacs, who runs one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies, spoke about the prospects in biotechnology for Africa. Mr. Isaacs was confident that a biotechnology industry in Africa would be just as beneficial as the pharmaceutical industry. He said Africa was ripe for opportunities for a burgeoning industry due to the immense natural and human resource capital available on the continent.

“The importance of biotechnology for Africa is that it serves as a reservoir for highly trained African scientists to do high quality research, do something important that’s economically good for [them], for the country, and for the people who receive the medicines that come out the other end,” Mr. Isaacs said. “There’s so much opportunity [for the African continent], you just have to see it. It has certainly worked in the U.S., it has worked in the U.K., and I firmly believe it will work in Africa.”

This post has first been published on the ASI blog.

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