“Unfortunately, people of African descent are significantly underrepresented in clinical trials, meaning that products and regimens approved based on data from people of other ethnicities may be suboptimal for them,” explains Jennifer Dent, President & CEO of BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH).
“The African Consortium for Cancer Clinical Trials (AC³T) is addressing these unacceptable disparities in the field of oncology by nurturing the growth and expansion of Africa’s cancer clinical research ecosystem.”
Launched in November 2017 by BVGH under the purview of the African Access Initiative (AAI), the African Consortium for Cancer Clinical Trials (AC³T) is a public-private partnership fostering and implementing cancer clinical trials led by investigators in Africa.
Clinical trials have been crucial for societies to understand and improve human health, as well as develop treatments for diseases. Access to, and the diversification of, clinical trials across race, class, and region is key to both the democratization of healthcare, as well as the overall advancement of healthcare technology, treatment, and policy globally.
‘It would not have been possible to accomplish our project.’
Since its inception, AC³T has empowered African investigators to lead their own innovative clinical research studies by providing virtual trainings as well as a mini-grants program.
“Without the AC³T mini-grant, it would not have been possible to accomplish our project,” said Dr. Jamilu Faruk Abdullahi, Consultant Pediatrician, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Nigeria. “It is my expectation that on completing this research, we will be able to identify factors that influence cancer treatment abandonment in ABUTH and its environs, with a view to ameliorating these factors and ultimately improving the quality of life and outcomes for children with cancer.”
AC³T has also worked to de-risk site selection for clinical trial sponsors by collecting and sharing (with consent) information on site capabilities through the dynamic AC³T online platform, which innovatively maps, documents, and updates the work of BVGH’s African partners across central and southern Africa.
This aspect of the AC³T’s work speaks to a longer term goal as well: improving the healthcare infrastructure across the African continent.
Their database is making more transparent the healthcare profiles of different African communities, as well as the capacity of different healthcare institutions across the African continent.
BVGH is building a foundation for the future
As BIO previously reported, “Improving access to drugs is a priority—but there are many challenges ranging from cost to ‘leaky supply chains.’”
While the database creates a foundation for international organizations who want to understand more, the work being done in partnership with AAI works “directly with a country’s ministry of health and within existing supply chains and regulatory systems. BVGH coordinates shipments of heavily discounted drugs directly from pharmaceutical companies, managing details ‘from port to patient,’ like regulatory approval and import documentation.”
This is paving the way for larger biotech leaders to partner with these smaller institutions and build infrastructure for the long term.
We are already seeing biotech prioritize expanding healthcare infrastructure and access—such as the announcement of a partnership between “Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and manufacturer Aspen SA Operations Ltd, based in South Africa, to enable the first COVID-19 vaccine to be manufactured and made available by an African company for people living in Africa, with the goal of increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates across the continent.”
In addition to providing trainings and de-risking clinical trial sites, AC³T is “raising awareness of African clinical trials capabilities through initiatives such as a satellite session (co-developed with FDA and ASCO) at the Accelerating Anticancer Agent Development and Validation (AAADV) conference,” says Dent. This is bringing major healthcare and biotech players into the African healthcare space to partner directly with healthcare providers on the continent.
“Building clinical oncology capacity and conducting cancer clinical trials in Africa are essential to improving cancer patient outcomes both across the African continent as well as for patients of African descent globally.” said Dr. Julie Gralow, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). “This clinical trials platform is an innovative tool that is being used to share knowledge and skills with African oncologists and other healthcare professionals treating cancer patients. In addition to providing training, this platform is also helping to identify both clinical researchers and care delivery sites in Africa. This identification will enable international cancer researchers to partner on clinical trials that will not only help people living with cancer in Africa, but also increase diversity and ethnic inclusion in cancer clinical trials worldwide.”
The work being done by the AC³T project is assuredly saving lives, improving infrastructure, and expanding opportunities for talented healthcare professionals so they can do the work that is so very important for the communities they serve. As their work and capacity has exploded in the few short years that it has been around, it is exciting to see how they will continue to grow and innovate.