New therapy for cancer underway, say researchers

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020 00:00 |
Kemri board chair Naftali Angata with Kihumbu Thairu, a Kemri founder, during the institute’s 40th anniversary celebration in Nairobi, on Monday. Photo/PD/TABITHA MBATIA

George Kebaso @Morarak

Hundreds of cancer patients could soon have something to smile about after local researchers announced a new therapy to treat and manage the disease is underway.

Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) has hinted that a stem-cell laboratory infrastructure is about to be completed in a move meant to minimise the number of cancer patients seeking treatment abroad.

Prof Yeri Kombe, the institute’s director general, Monday said the technology will revolutionalise the approach to both curative and preventive research in cancer treatment and management.

“This is the game changer in cancer research and we are confident that the institute is in the right trajectory in the next decade,” he said at official opening of a week-long scientific health research conference in Nairobi.

Disease challenge

He said this shows the country has what it takes to address the disease challenge including tackling the deadly coronavirus in the future.

“We have the tools required to tackle any disease burden. What we now need is the government to actualise its promise to increase funding, locally, towards research and development; also enhancing the available research,” he said.

However, to inspire innovation and product development, Kombe said Kemri, has for some time now, developed a production unit with the capacity to translate innovation to a preliminary version that can be replicated with commercialisation in mind.

These products include hepatitis diagnostics kits, while work on new anti-jiggers products is underway.

“The platform at the production unit has the potential for development of human vaccines and biosimilars,” he said as most of the experts agreed that there is enough research in this country to help Kenyans tackle the challenges.

“We have research findings that can be successfully applied in the management and control of diseases and other health challenges in Kenya and the world.

“The institute has developed relevant infrastructure and strategies for disease prevention, control, treatment and management and generated massive research findings that are being applied to the improvement of health in Kenya and the world,” he said.

The experts expressed optimism that Kenya is about to start massive rollout of diverse interventions in disease management through an existing modern health  research infrastructure.

Health research

“We have made remarkable achievements in the development of a critical mass of health research scientists and pioneered pirtant developments in health research technology which has all enhanced the national and regional health capacity,” Kombe added.

Senior researcher Prof Kihumbu Thairu said when Kemri was founded in 1979 there were handful scientists, but today it has grown to a renowned global body with slightly over 4,000 staff.

“Likewise, Kemri has built evidence over a period of time in key national health priority areas and developed key research surveillance platforms that work closely with communities.

It is through such research that Kenya was recognised as a major contributor to Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) for HIV/AIDS,” he added.

Similarly on parasitic control Kemri’s research has seen development of Leishamaniasis regimen reduced period from 30 days to 17.

This, he added, has led to an improved school attendance through a Kemri developed school-based deworming programme.

The institute has established six active demographic health surveillance systems, the experts said are key to the implementation of Universal Healthcare Coverage in Nairobi, Kilifi, Kwale, Kisumu (Kombewa and Ahero), Homa Bay (Mbita) and Busia.

Parallel sessions

The 10th Kemri Annual Scientific and Health (KASH) conference brought together close to 500 experts in various health platforms to discuss 200 abstracts in 17 parallel sessions. The discussions cover current health and disease challenges.

It is themed: “Towards sustainable Universal Health Care in Kenya: Utilisation of Research Evidence through multi-sectoral collaboration”

The forum is also being used to mark 40 years of the institute’s existence since inception in 1979.

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