Strengthening regulatory capacity for gene drives in Africa: leveraging NEPAD’s experience in establishing regulatory systems for medicines and GM crops in Africa

Glover, BA, Olalekan; Savadogo, Moussa; Timpo, Samuel; Lemgo, Godwin; Sinebo, Woldeyesus; Akile, Sunday; Obukosia, Silas; Ouedraogo, Jeremy; Ndomondo-Sigonda, Margareth; Koch, Muffy; Makinde, Diran; Ambali, Aggrey,  BMC Proceedings,  12:1-10. 2018.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency recognizes that Africa is in a period of transition and that this demands exploring and harnessing safe advances made in science-based innovations including modern biotechnology. To advance the science of biotechnology in Africa effectively, while at the same time safeguarding human health and the environment, the African Union (AU) adopted a High-Level Panel report on modern biotechnology entitled, Freedom to Innovate, which advocated for a coevolutionary approach where technology development goes hand in hand with regulation. Furthermore, most AU member states are Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), a legally binding international agreement negotiated, concluded and adopted within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This seeks to guide Parties in developing systems for the environmentally sound management of modern biotechnology applications. Currently, 49 AU Member States have signed and ratified the CPB, of which 12 have passed biosafety laws. African Union (AU) member states are at different stages in the development of regulatory frameworks for applications of modern biotechnology, which include genetically modified (GM) products and other emerging technologies. Biosafety regulatory frameworks comprise: biotechnology and/or biosafety policy; laws, regulations and guidelines; administrative systems; decision-making systems; and mechanisms for public engagement. To assist Member States to implement functional regulatory frameworks for both agriculture and health applications, the NEPAD Agency established the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) and the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization (AMRH). Currently, transgenic insects and GM crops are regulated by Competent National Authorities whose mandate derives from national biosafety laws. For GM crops, a lot of research has been conducted up to the confined field trial (CFT) and multi-location trials stages in a number of African countries. Burkina Faso has fully functional containment facilities for transgenic mosquitoes while Mali and Uganda are developing theirs. The Burkina Faso regulatory agency has granted permits and has already received sets of sterile mosquito eggs for trials in the contained facility. It is instructive to note that both ABNE and AMRH have worked with national and regional regulatory bodies in Africa to enhance their technical capacities for informed decision making, adoption of best practices, and compliance with international standards. It is against the backdrop of a rich blend of on-the-ground knowledge, experience, expertise, and insight into the context and political sensitivities of member states that the NEPAD Agency seeks to expand existing support. This would include capacity strengthening in the regulation of emerging technologies, such as the application of gene drives in the development of transgenic mosquito for the control of malaria transmission.