Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gates Foundation Develops Labs In Africa Populated With African Scientists

Marketplace Money: A way to make drugs for poor countries

A public-private venture with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is being used to test a potential malaria vaccine. The collaboration may provide a viable business model for developing drugs for poor countries. Megan Williams reports.

Kai Ryssdal: Nearly a million people die of malaria every year, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. A public-private venture that includes $200 million from the Gates Foundation is working on a vaccine. It's about to do its final tests. And if the vaccine works, the collaboration that produced it could offer a viable business model for developing drugs for poorer countries. Megan Williams reports now from Gabon, in central Africa.


MEGAN WILLIAMS: Dr. Maxime Agnandji peers into a microscope at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital lab in Lamberene, Gabon.

The 35-year-old who grew up in the country heads the research unit here, as part of the biggest medical trial ever held in Africa. A malaria vaccine test involving 16,000 kids and 11 different research centers across the continent.

MAXIME AGNANJDI: Basically I want to stay here to develop my career here.

Agnanjdi is one of the principal investigators for the final test of the vaccine, called RTSS. So far, it's been shown to cut the rate of severe malarial infection by half. Agnanjdi says it's not only exciting to work on a solution to a mainly African problem, but on a project that's changing the face of medical research in Africa.

AGNANJDI: Since the 10 last years there is improvement in training, to control diseases. I've met many, many doctors from different countries, all are from Africa. Young researchers from Africa.

The Gates foundation decided to invest in the malaria vaccine research after scientists at the drug company Glaxo-Smith-Kline showed it had real potential. But for big drug companies vaccines in Africa just aren't profitable. People are too poor to pay. Without the Gates funding, the malaria vaccine wouldn't have been developed.

Rip Ballou of the Gates Foundation has been part of the quest for a malaria vaccine for more than two decades.

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