In a compelling effort to advance precision medicine, Professor Collen Masimirembwa, the visionary President and CEO of the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology (AiBST), sheds light on the critical need for genomic research in Africa. Despite the continent’s unparalleled genetic diversity, only 2% of global genomic data originates from people of African ancestry, severely impacting disease prediction and drug development tailored to African populations.
The underrepresentation in clinical trials, a mere 3.5% in Africa, hinders effective treatments, especially for conditions like cancer and HIV. Professor Masimirembwa advocates for increased investment, capacity-building, and collaboration to establish an ecosystem for precision medicine in Africa.
Key genomic initiatives, including the African Pharmacogenomics Consortium (APC) and the African Society of Human Genetics (AfSHG), highlight Africa’s strides in increasing genomic data. AiBST, under the APC, created a biobank with over 20,000 samples, revealing Africa’s genetic richness and the necessity for population-specific treatment strategies.
AiBST’s groundbreaking studies on drug-gene interactions, focusing on cancer treatments, HIV, TB, and sickle cell disease, underscore the importance of personalized treatment strategies for African patients. The development of GenoPharm, a genetic test predicting responses to over 100 drugs, exemplifies AiBST’s commitment to tailored healthcare.
Fueled by the Calestous Juma Science Fellowship, AiBST is gearing up for the Implementation of Pharmacogenetic Testing for Effective Care and Treatment in Africa (iPROTECTA). This precision medicine program, spanning Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, aims to treat tuberculosis, gastrointestinal tumors, and sickle cell disease with a focus on pharmacogenomics.
AiBST’s broader mandate includes capacity-building efforts through SPARK Africa, fostering an ecosystem for product development. The network, a result of collaboration with Stanford University, aims to convert biomedical research into clinical solutions for Africa, highlighting the importance of sustained funding and supportive policy environments.