Zimbabwe will soon be able to test the safety and effectiveness of all medicines among African populations, following the setting up of a clinical trials unit at Chitungwiza Central Hospital. Run by the African Institute of Biomedical, Science and Technology (AiBST), the first trial is expected to start before the end of the year, after which audits will be done to ascertain if more studies can be conducted in the country.In an interview with The Herald recently, after visiting the trials unit at Chitungwiza Central Hospital, AiBST president and chief scientific officer Professor Collins Masimirembwa said the project will be in two parts — the clinical trial unit and the laboratory — where samples would be analysed.
Prof Masimirembwa said with assistance from a Swiss-based pharmaceutical company — Norvatis — they were also training their staff in conducting the trials.
“We are ready to start now. We have already done visits to the centre, laboratories and now training has started. We have done some progress. We should be able to start now.
“Currently, we are working on training people on how to conduct the clinical trials while we wait for our accreditation papers and also making sure that both facilities are of international standards,” he said.
He said officials from Novartis, who are assisting with the technical support, have also visited the AiBST laboratories housed at Wilkins Hospital in Harare.
Prof Masimirembwa said this new facility will allow local pharmaceutical companies to conduct tests on generic drugs.
He said when these drugs are produced, local manufacturing companies must test for certain similarities with the original manufacturers.
Currently, samples of these tests are sent to India and Germany.
“So, this initiative will reduce costs of transporting the medicines to India, and the turnaround time will also be reduced,” he said.
He said this will also go a long way in ascertaining the effectiveness and safety of medicines manufactured in other African countries.
“When major pharmaceutical companies come with new drugs, it has been noted that most of the drugs go on the market before they are tested in Africa.
“So, when that happens, some of the doses will not be appropriate for African people, but with this facility the big companies can work with us, before it is allowed into the population so that we can do first in man studies to get information on how African people react to those products,” he said.
Prof Masimirembwa said once the project starts, they are expecting to get samples from both local and international pharmaceutical companies. He said this development is consistent with current Government efforts to revive the local industry as well as the sadc industrial strategy calling on pharmaceutical innovations to address the burden of diseases in Africa.
Other countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania have already set up similar clinical trials units.
Speaking at the same occasion, Chitungwiza Central Hospital chief executive Dr Obadiah Moyo said the setting up of the unit is clear testimony that private-public partnership is workable.