BACKGROUND: The Malaria Clinical Trials Alliance (MCTA), a programme of INDEPTH network of demographic surveillance centres, was launched in 2006 with two broad objectives: to facilitate the timely development of a network of centres in Africa with the capacity to conduct clinical trials of malaria vaccines and drugs under conditions of good clinical practice (GCP); and to support, strengthen and mentor the centres in the network to facilitate their progression towards self-sustaining clinical research centres.
CASE DESCRIPTION: Sixteen research centres in 10 African malaria-endemic countries were selected that were already working with the Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) or the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV). All centres were visited to assess their requirements for research capacity development through infrastructure strengthening and training. Support provided by MCTA included: laboratory and facility refurbishment; workshops on GCP, malaria diagnosis, strategic management and media training; and training to support staff to undertake accreditation examinations of the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP). Short attachments to other network centres were also supported to facilitate sharing practices within the Alliance. MCTA also played a key role in the creation of the African Media & Malaria Research Network (AMMREN), which aims to promote interaction between researchers and the media for appropriate publicity and media reporting of research and developments on malaria, including drug and vaccine trials.
CONCLUSION: In three years, MCTA strengthened 13 centres to perform GCP-compliant drug and vaccine trials, including 11 centres that form the backbone of a large phase III malaria vaccine trial. MCTA activities have demonstrated that centres can be brought up to GCP compliance on this time scale, but the costs are substantial and there is a need for further support of other centres to meet the growing demand for clinical trial capacity. The MCTA experience also indicates that capacity development in clinical trials is best carried out in the context of preparation for specific trials. In this regard MCTA centres involved in the phase III malaria vaccine trial were, on average, more successful at consolidating the training and infrastructure support than those centres focussing only on drug trials.
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