Four Kenyans among 14 Africans to receive over US$1m grant for drug research

AFRICA – Four Kenyans are among 14 scientists from eight African countries who will receive up to US$1 million (about KSh111.7 million) each over five years for projects ranging from computational drug discovery to molecular epidemiology.

The four were recently named among the first cohort of the prestigious Calestous Juma Science Leadership Fellowship programme, as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a new US$50 million initiative to build a resilient global health infrastructure under which scientific innovation reaches everyone.

They are Mr Moses Madadi, a sexual and reproductive health expert with an interest in placental biology and preterm birth, Miss Lynette Isabela Oyier, a Malaria molecular epidemiology expert whose research focus is utility of molecular tools to obtain actionable data for the National Malaria Programme (DNMP) in Kenya, Ms Mainga Hamaluba, a translational science expert with a focus on safety and efficacy of a range of interventions to reduce mortality in newborns in East Africa.

The last beneficiary is Mr Vincent Okungu, a health financing and systems strengthening expert whose focus will be research and development (R&D) financing models that would stimulate domestic investments in health research and development, including strategies for increased government budgets, private sector involvement and local philanthropies.

While making the announcement at the 17th Grand Challenges Annual Meeting, the foundation explained that through the commitment, it will prioritise grants to scientists from low- and middle-income countries.

The Grand Challenges Global Call to Action is a 10-year initiative that will prioritise grants to scientists from low- and middle-income countries and support a balanced representation of women principal investigators,” it said.

According to officials, the long-term plan is to ensure scientists and institutions in low- and middle-income countries play a central role in shaping the global R&D agenda and developing solutions that can better meet the needs of their communities.

Initial focus areas will include data science, such as mathematical modelling to inform national malaria control programmes; digital health services for pregnant women; and innovations to close gaps identified by current programmes for eliminating neglected tropical diseases.

The foundation will also launch the Global Immunology and Immune Sequencing for Epidemic Response (GIISER), which it describes as a programme that works to ensure scientists have the capacity to rapidly detect if new SARS-CoV-2 variants in their communities show signs of evading immune response.

GIISER will operate as a decentralised network of autonomous and geographically distinct hubs that are able to connect local pathogen sequencing data and clinical epidemiology with local immunological understanding and tools.

As part of this programme, the foundation will provide US$7 million over two years to investigative teams in eight countries (South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Brazil and India) to expand their existing immunological capacity,” an official statement read in part.

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