News from TDR Director, John Reeder

TDR news item
26 September 2014

Thirty-nine people from 23 countries have received funding to advance their research careers – this is the beginning of a renewed commitment to help expand capacity in low- and middle-income countries to conduct health research.

We are particularly happy to be re-initiating these during TDR’s 40th anniversary, when we are profiling the impressive impact of earlier grantees. I hope you’ll read the short summaries of some of the re-entry grants, which are really inspiring.

For example, Effua Usuf is identifying specific problems in vaccine wastage. She started her career as a laboratory assistant at the Medical Research Council in the Gambia, at a time when there was no university in that country. She went to Sierra Leone for medical school and had to move to Ghana at the outbreak of civil war.

After obtaining her medical degree in 2001, she worked as a medical officer in paediatrics at the main teaching hospital at home in the Gambia before pursuing MSc and PhD degrees at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She’s committed to improving the health of children through vaccines, and I think she will be one more alumni who makes a positive difference.

Ebola

Ebola is the disease that everyone is now following. This devastating outbreak in West Africa is straining already poor health systems and devastating whole families and communities. I have been proud to see how the TDR community has stepped up to try to help.

Christian Happi, a former TDR grantee, is involved in the genome sequencing of the virus and his laboratory diagnosed the first case in Nigeria. One of our teams in Liberia that had worked on clinical trials of moxidectin, a potential new treatment for onchocerciasis, has turned their services to Ebola needs. TDR staff and former staff are coordinating logistics in Sierra Leone and Guinea, and Piero Olliaro, one of our senior research managers, is involved with the new platform to fast track the testing of potential new treatments.

Partnerships

We are making good progress in a number of key initiatives with partners. For example, we’ve worked with COHRED, the Council on Health Research for Development, to develop a new internet platform that lists training opportunities and other important research management information in West Africa. West Africa Health Research Web (WAHRWeb) is a database and an announcement platform for research capacity training opportunities like ethics, grant writing, and clinical trials management for the 15 countries of the West African Health Organization (WAHO).

A recent meeting in Tanzania was the first of its kind to help countries strengthen their capacity to access and introduce new health technologies for TB, malaria and other NTDs as these technologies become available. There are plans to hold similar events in Ghana, Thailand and Indonesia. This work is part of a broader, 5-year, US$ 17.5 million project supported by the Japanese government and implemented by a partnership led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with TDR and PATH.

Creating a Global Observatory for R&D

An article in Science has outlined approaches to developing a global health R&D observatory. The authors, including TDR’s manager of knowledge management Rob Terry, recommend adopting the latest approaches in data mining to maximize the collection, synthesis and interpretation of data, and to minimise the cost of bringing the data together.

Grants

Currently, we have 2 grant calls – one is closing very soon at the end of September, which is set up to investigate strategies to improve the careers of women research scientists in infectious diseases of poverty. The other is a project studying the vulnerability of preventive chemotherapy of helminth infections to the emergence of drug resistance, which has a deadline of 30 November.

40th anniversary

"We are particularly happy to be re-initiating these training and re-entry grants during TDR’s 40th anniversary, when we are profiling the impressive impact of earlier grantees. "

John Reeder, TDR Director

We continue our 40th anniversary celebration with a profile of Christian Happi, who has made a strong career out of mapping antimalarial drug resistance and reducing Lassa fever mortality. But he’s also been involved in the Ebola outbreak, as I noted at the beginning of this letter.

It was early support from TDR – namely a re-entry grant to investigate the molecular determinants of drug response and resistance in P. falciparum from Africa and South America – that Happi credits with kickstarting his successful career. “That was the impetus I needed to take the next step,” he says. “TDR put me on the path to where I am today.” And what a career it is!

“He’s become a real leader in Africa,” says Professor Wirth of the Harvard School of Public Health, where Happi is also a visiting scientist. And this is what we are honouring during our 40th anniversary – the impact of identifying talented young people, and supporting and mentoring them at different levels. So many are now making such a difference in their home countries and worldwide.

For more information, please contact

Jamie Guth
TDR Communications Manager
Telephone: +41 79 441 2289
E-mail:guthj@who.int