Over 18% of the global population lives in Africa, but less than 3% of clinical trials are conducted there. Is there an opportunity for clinical trials to be conducted in Africa? Experts at the ongoing Clinical Trial Supply (CTS) Europe meeting say the answer is yes, but not without its challenges.

Leading the session, “Increasing diversity: supply chain considerations for clinical trials in Africa”, Révérien Uwacu, clinical trial supply management consultant for the pharma company UCB, emphasised the importance of diversity in clinical trials, for scientific, moral, and medical reasons.

Révérien cited logistical challenges and regulatory complexities in trial supply management, as some of the reasons behind this lack of diversity. Despite this, increased regulatory support and interest in local research sites can increase the potential of clinical trials on the continent: “Africa is an untapped market. It’s a potential target for global health – so this makes Africa strategically very important,” he said.

Africa also has the highest disease burden in the world, including serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, acute respiratory infections, and diarrheal diseases, which all have high mortality rates, meaning the opportunity for innovation and development can make a big impact to the population.

Clinical trial readiness

Five African countries (South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Tanzania, and Ghana) are currently at maturity level three for either vaccines or medicine on the World Health Organizations (WHO) global benchmarking tool that uses a scale of 1–4. This signifies that they have an established robust and integrated regulatory systems capable of overseeing and ensuring quality.

“There are so many organisations like the continental free trade area (CFTA) and African medicines agency (AMA) – they are steadily working to find innovations to bolster infrastructure and reshape policymaking to make Africa beyond the standards that we are talking about here,” said Révérien on regulatory systems.

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One company that is doing this is clinical trials experts Oximio, that has built a coalition of experts in regulatory and logistics across Africa, often based in the countries themselves enabling the better understanding and adoption of more advanced supply chain risk management practices. 

Chief commercial officer at Oximio Zayheda Khan said: “Recent times have seen Africa gaining recognition as a key contender in the clinical trials arena. Continued investment, infrastructure improvements, and a large, genetically diverse population who are eager to be part of clinical trials means that it has much to offer pharmaceutical companies trialling new drugs.” 

Overall, it is clear that the need for building local partnerships, understanding regional regulations, and adopting technologies for supply chain transparency are all vital for Africa to become a clinical trial superpower. 

“When there are challenges, there is also opportunities,” said Révérien.

The Clinical Trial Supply Europe conference is taking place in Barcelona from 6-7 March 2024.