Research breakthrough against cattle killer

Innovation, capacity building and partnerships to combat a deadly African cattle disease are in the news. This month, ILRI's East Coast fever research is featured in two top journals – Science and the Journal of International Development. On 1 July 2005, America's leading scientific journal Science reported on the genome sequencing of a deadly parasite, Theileria parva, which causes East Coast fever (ECF), an infectious tick-borne disease that kills two cows every minute in Africa. This ground-breaking research was led by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi Kenya, and The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), based in the USA. In addition to advancing research into parasitic livestock diseases, this research will also be valuable to scientists studying human malaria and cancers. TIGR/ILRI News Release ILRI News Backgrounder The ECF project is also of great interest to international development practitioners and policymakers. An article published in the July edition of the Journal of International Development by James Smith of Edinburgh University uses the ECF project as a case study example of how institutional research and development is changing. The old model 'technology-led' projects, often criticised for failing to deliver effective and affordable products downstream, is being replaced with  new model partnerships that have innovation and capacity building built in and that aim to deliver demand-led products of benefit to the poor in developing countries. Smith describes the ECF project as 'a potentially new model of… research and development partnership' which is an example of “a more ‘complete’ approach to innovation”. The ECF project has many partners and a very clear product focus. The project builds capacity in new ways, as those involved are forced to break out of their traditional boundaries. Scientists who were interviewed felt the project was encouraging them to think in new ways – like farmers and like businesspeople. There are many examples of 'good' technologies still sitting on shelves because scientists failed to consider the needs and circumstances of the end users of the technologies, such as whether the product would be accessible and affordable to farmers. International development professionals and donors are becoming increasingly focused on capacity building, partnerships, innovation systems and, ultimately, the delivery of tangible results, including products, as integral parts of R&D activity. There is a shift away from projects that could be described as 'research for the sake of research' to demand-led research, operated by many partners as a collaborating network that accomplishes a specific goal. John McDermott, ILRI’s Deputy Director General – Research said: 'The ECF Project illustrates ILRI’s new modus operandi, which generates innovation through strategic partnerships. Each partner is doing what they are best at – with the shared goal of delivering an effective and affordable vaccine for East Coast fever that will ultimately benefit millions of small-scale farmers in Africa.' There are lessons to be learned and the ECF project experience looks likely to be scrutinised further to gain more insights into new ways of doing R&D for greater benefits to the world's poor. Smith concludes: 'The East Coast fever vaccine project does appear to offer a new approach to prioritizing research and design, building capacity, and eventually producing an efficacious product. It does appear, however, that the positive spin-offs from the approach may not have been pre-planned but that the approach was shaped by a combination of the contingencies of vaccine production and the realities of institutional R&D in Kenya. The trick will be to identify exactly what makes this approach successful…'.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.