Strengthening research capacity where it’s needed most
Through the TDR Career Development Fellowship Programme, scientists from disease endemic countries have a unique opportunity to learn both the product development and full registration processes by taking part at every stage, training in the some of the world’s most advanced labs. Three different partnerships are profiled in Viet Nam, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo.
From Uganda forward
Brenda Okech entered the world in what chess players would call a compromised position. Born in Kampala, Uganda in the spring of 1972, she started life in a city on edge. The economy was in free fall, refugees were streaming out by the thousands, and with the recent rise to power of the murderous military dictator Idi Amin, things were soon to take a turn for the worse.
When they did, Okech fled with her parents for the safety of exile, moving first to Kenya, then to Tanzania, and finally, after five long years, back home to Kampala, where a passion for science first took hold. “I loved it from the word go,” she says, crediting a primary school teacher for making the subject “exciting” and her parents, who were, she says, “firm believers in education.”
“That was, I would say, a life-changing experience. It was like getting your foot in a very big door. It opens up so many new opportunities. ”
Former CDF Fellow in Tanzania
Now an immunologist at the African Malaria Network Trust (AMANET), Okech’s career has been a story of improbable success and rare circularity. And nothing has done more to advance it, she says, than the TDR Clinical R&D Career Development Fellowship Programme (CDF). “That was, I would say, a life-changing experience,” she recalls. “It was like getting your foot in a very big door. It opens up so many new opportunities.”
Founded in 1999 to promote high quality clinical research in low and middle income countries, the CDF started out as a partnership between TDR and the Belgium-based GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, a global vaccine research, development and production company. Those selected to participate in the programme received 12 months of on-the-job training at GSK Biologicals in R&D project management, Good Clinical Practice and regulatory requirements before returning to their home institutions.
“At that time, GSK was working on a candidate vaccine for malaria,” recalls Fabio Zicker, TDR’s Research Coordinator, who together with Steve Wayling helped launch the programme with Dr Nadia Tornieporth, then Vice President of Clinical Development in the Department of Prophylactic Vaccines at GSK. “When you’re developing any new vaccine, it requires a lot of rigor in terms of planning, documentation and safety and surveillance of the patient population,” he says. “So GSK wanted people there who could facilitate the process in developing countries and bring the perspective from the field to the company – scientists trained to the highest standards of clinical conduct.”
In partnering with GSK to provide hands-on training under the aegis of an industry giant, TDR not only broke with its tradition of supporting only academic study, it also forged what remains the only programme of its kind for low and middle income country investigators. “This opened a whole new front in our efforts to support developing countries to engage as partners – real partners – in product development,” says Zicker. “And it’s having an impact; these Fellows have been building teams and producing data of internationally accepted quality, and that data is being used.”