I am happy to say that the new malaria eradication research agenda (malERA Refresh) is about to be published
I am happy to say that the new malaria eradication research agenda (malERA Refresh) is about to be published. It’s been a major consultative process and I was part of the team behind the scenes. Do we need a new agenda? Well, the first malaria eradication research agenda (malERA) was published in 2011, at a time when the RTS/s vaccine candidate was still in clinical trials, when scientists were on the brink of discovering how to edit genes using CRISPR, and the WHO Malaria Policy Advisory Committee was about to be born.
A couple of years back, MESA (Malaria Eradication Scientific Alliance) asked whether enough had changed in the field to merit an update of the research agenda. The resounding response was "yes", so MESA brought the partners together and asked them some basic questions: what has progressed since 2011; are there new challenges; and what innovation is needed to eliminate and eventually eradicate malaria?
How did we do it?
More than 180 experts, organised into 6 panels on different topics took part. First we gave them all homework and then brought each panel together for a face-to-face meeting. The best meetings were those where we ditched the agenda and got out the flip charts! Discussions didn’t stick to people’s pet projects or favourite scientific questions, it really was about bringing all ideas to the table.
How did we do it? More than 180 experts, organised into 6 panels on different topics took part
Later, panellists had a chance to challenge the main findings from the other panel discussions, and the last step was the write-up of the papers. The hope is that the creative process doesn’t end with the publications, but that the ideas can now get tested and that new partnerships are born. malERA Refresh is already helping the WHO in its own process of framing its set of malaria R&D priorities through the ‘R&D Observatory’. So that’s not a bad start in terms of impact.
What lessons did we learn?
In the malERA Refresh panels we tried to achieve a mix of people who took part in the original malERA as well as newcomers. We also tried for the groups to include plenty of researchers and programme managers from endemic countries, as well as people you might call 'early career' researchers or the 'next generation'. Many excellent people took part, but if I'm honest we should have done better on the numbers overall. It is not something we’re getting right in the malaria scientific community in general and we need to fix it.
It may sound obvious, but during the project I thought how seriously dedicated this bunch of people are to solving malaria
Commitment: the key ingredient
Everyone involved in malERA Refresh gave up time from their day jobs. The co-chairs, PhD students, post-docs and others who took on the writing really did a huge amount of work. It may sound obvious, but during the project I thought how seriously dedicated this bunch of people are to solving malaria. How do people who have worked in one field their whole career still get so passionate and stay so committed? I got my answer; when groups were asking what was getting in the way of progress and how can we defeat this disease, once or twice you could see a sign of the heartache that malaria is still a killer. That it still kills kids. For these people, all ideas need to be tested and progress can’t happen fast enough.
Part of a global effort
During the malERA consultations, Youyou Tu was awarded the Nobel Prize for her discovery of artemisinin and William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura for their work on ivermectin in parasitic worms. As the Nobel Committee said, their research led to “therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases”. Dyann Wirth, who chaired one of the malERA Refresh panels was invited to attend the ceremony. It was a really nice reminder to all of us of how slogging it out in the lab and years of research can lead to amazing discoveries that have a huge impact on people’s lives.
malERA Refresh will be published as an open access collection in PLOS Medicine on Nov 30th 2017