Makerere University on Friday 19th March, 2021 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Alfasan Uganda Limited to facilitate production of test batches of the Anti-Tick Vaccine developed by the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB). The MoU was signed on behalf of Makerere University by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe and on behalf of Alfasan by the Managing Director Dr. Stephen Birungi. The Principal CoVAB-Prof. John David Kabasa, Anti-Tick Vaccine Initiative Principal Investigator (PI)-Dr. Margaret Saimo-Kahwa and Acting (Ag.) Manager Intellectual Property Management Office (IPMO)-Canon Goddy Muhumuza signed as witnesses.
The Anti-Tick Vaccine Initiative is hosted under the Centre for Biosecurity and Global Health, CoVAB. According to the Prof. Kabasa, the Centre was one of the milestones endorsed by the University when the then faculty to college transition was proposed. “I am happy to report that the Centre is being vigorously supported by the Government to undertake activities of vaccine development together with other scientists.”
He thanked the Vice Chancellor always taking keen interest in the multidisciplinary programmes undertaken by the college with a view improving the livelihoods of both small and large scale livestock farmers. He equally lauded the CoVAB scientists for their efforts to develop the Anti-Tick Vaccine and stakeholders such as the Africa Institute for Strategic Animal Resource Services and Development (AFRISA), Centre of Tropical Medicine and the Ruth Keesling Wildlife Health, Research and Outreach Centre (RK_WHERE) for their support.
Unveiling the research challenge and solution, the PI Dr. Margaret Saimo-Kahwa noted that ticks as vectors for diseases like East Coast Fever are an economic threat to farmers with herds of exotic breeds, their crosses and increasingly, local breeds raised in a tick-free environment. Furthermore, common tick species in Uganda have developed resistance to acaricides used in spraying as a method of their control. This resistance is further exacerbated by acaricide contamination of the environment, leading to residues in animal products like milk and meat, which have implications on human health.
“Therefore, alternative methods like anti-tick vaccines that reduce the use of acaricides are urgently needed to protect the livestock sector that plays a role in poverty reduction and contributes at least 3.2% to Uganda’s GDP, which is equivalent to about 1 Trillion Uganda Shillings” said Dr. Saimo-Kahwa.
The efficacy of any innovation is measured by how well it has worked elsewhere. The Anti-Tick Vaccine Initiative therefore sought inspiration from Australia, where the first anti-tick vaccine was developed in the 1980s as well as Cuba where the vaccines have been used successfully for over 20 years. Gleaning further from Brazil, the team used biotechnology approaches to develop antigens that can target the ticks in Uganda.
“Testing of these molecules under laboratory conditions with funding from the Government of Uganda has been done” remarked the Principal Investigator before adding, “The next step is to test these molecules in clinical trials. However, the molecules should be manufactured under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and not under laboratory conditions.”
Dr. Saimo-Kahwa at this point thanked the President, H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, whose advice led the research team to the GMP-certified Alfasan Uganda Limited. “These negotiations have been fruitful, leading to the drafting of a memorandum of understanding for production of test batches of the potential vaccine, with funding from Government of Uganda.”
Dr. Stephen Birungi a Makerere University alumnus from CoVAB was all praises for his alma mater and commended Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe for ushering in era of innovation in the short time he has served as Vice Chancellor. “If we are seeing a threat to the livestock industry, we need to act now to save the 20-30% of Uganda’s 15million head of cattle that we lose annually due to tick-borne diseases.”
He reassured all present that Alfasan, a private company certified for the production of veterinary biologicals, was fully committed to improving the livelihood of Ugandan livestock farmers by partnering with the Government of Uganda and institutions such as Makerere University.
“Alfasan as a factory that was born out of partnership between Uganda and Holland is ready to give the facilities that will convert this beautiful innovation from Makerere; once again proving that Makerere is not just a theoretical teaching institution but is ready to bring out those products that can change lives in our country” affirmed Dr. Birungi.
He thanked Makerere University for recognizing the need to produce homegrown vaccines, noting that imported batches tend become less efficacious after multiple applications due to varying protein compositions of the ticks in countries where the remedies originate and Uganda.
“It is therefore important that Government doubles the effort to support CoVAB and Makerere University so that we don’t only stop at this solution but go out and solve even bigger problems using research that has been proven such as this anti-tick vaccine” Dr. Birungi added.
Makerere University is home to a number of innovations, whose number keeps growing thanks to generous funding from the Government and other partners. In recognition of the need to translate these innovations into commercially viable products, the University introduced an Intellectual Property Management Office and appointed Canon Goddy Muhumuza as Ag. Manager. Guiding the MoU signing ceremony, Canon Muhumuza, who also doubles as Principal Legal Officer, made specific mention of the clause on “Ownership” clarifying that Makerere University shall own the patent of the vaccine.
“A new dawn is setting on Makerere University. Makerere University is becoming a truly international research university,” commenced the Vice Chancellor as he made closing remarks following the brief MoU signing and exchange ceremony.
He thanked Dr. Saimo-Kahwa for her great work and mentorship as shown by the constitution of her team, mainly made up of young people. The team is made up of Scientists; Dr. Olaho Mukhani William, Dr. Kokas Ikwap, Dr. Mukiibi Herbert, Dr. Ochwo Sylvester, Dr. Musadha Zachary and Mr. Peregrine Sebulime.
In order to study the life and breeding cycles of ticks, the Initiative included a specialist (Acarologist), Mr. Charles Ssekitto. Technicians who form part of the team include; Mr. Geoffrey Ssentamu, Mr. Nalumenya David, Ms. Namubiru Sarah and Mr. Abubaker Musoba. Mr. Gerald Brooks Musinguzi is in charge of Communication while Ms. Kaudha Rose is the Administrator.
The Vice Chancellor noted that the capacity to develop vaccines was evidence of attaining to the highest levels of research capacity and expressed great pride to learn that the team was completely Ugandan. He thanked the Government of Uganda for the heavily investing in research at Makerere University and reminded staff of their obligation to give back to the taxpayers by providing good accountability.
“I must thank the leadership of the college for the great work they are doing. Professor Kabasa is passionate about Makerere and Uganda and what we should be doing to develop our country” remarked Prof. Nawangwe.
Results from the trials conducted so far showed that the overall efficacy of the vaccine candidate proteins was 86% for R appendiculatas (the brown ear tick) that transmits East Coast Fever (ECF) and 53% for R decoloratus that transmits Babesiosis. “If this vaccine can reduce the burden of tick borne diseases, we will have through one single innovation made a huge contribution to solving one of Uganda’s biggest problems.”
Prof. Nawangwe thanked Alfasan Uganda Limited for being pioneers in implementing academia-private sector collaboration. “As we come up with more innovations and move towards being a research-led University, it is inevitable that we have to work with the private sector, and I thank Managing Director for this gesture… you are a good alumnus.”
This MoU marks the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial partnership between academia and the private sector. The Anti-Tick Vaccine Initiative intends to expand the immunization to include more animals and carry out a clinical trial to determine the appropriate dosage and schedule. Furthermore, the Anti-Tick Vaccine candidate proteins offer more opportunities to include other candidate vaccine proteins of other cattle diseases into the combination.
The event was moderated by the Principal Public Relations Officer, Ms. Ritah Namisango and the Communication Officer CoVAB, Mr. Gerald Brooks Musinguzi.
Article by Public Relations Office
Stakeholders to take on Electronic Rabies Surveillance using a One Health Approach in the control of Rabies
Stakeholders in the Rabies Elimination project in Uganda (eRabies) have intensified efforts aimed at the use of electronic Rabies Surveillance using a One Health approach in the efforts towards elimination of rabies in Uganda.
A two-day workshop was convened at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Makerere University from 28th-29th August 2023, during which the stakeholders deliberated on a number of proposals for the best applicable surveillance tools to address One Health concerns in the effort towards the elimination of Rabies.
‘The purpose of the meeting is to hear from various actors and see what works for us, to enable us collect information and have it shared in a sustained way with One Health as a key component’ said Prof. Clovice Kankya, the Head, Department of Biosecurity, Ecosystems and Veterinary Public Health at CoVAB, at the start of the meeting held in the Centre for Biosecurity and Global Health.
Kankya noted that with one year of implementation to date, the eRabies project was progressing well drawing a lot of support from the implementing local Governments of Kyegegwa, Soroti and Kampala Capital City Authority that spearhead the community engagements and other related activities. He said the graduate fellows from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries supported by the project were also on schedule.
He said Rabies is a global challenge being a zoonotic disease affecting the entire world more so here in Africa where there is close interaction between the wild animals and the human population. The Uganda Wildlife Authority, he said, was brought on board specifically Queen Elizabeth National Park to address some of the challenges affecting people drawing from the wild animals.
The Deputy Principal CoVAB, Prof. James Acai Okwee, in his opening remarks noted through the eRabies project, Makerere University and the host CoVAB were consolidating efforts towards the control of rabies in Uganda. ‘In as much as Rabies is a killer 100%, it is also preventable 100%’ observed Prof. Acai, adding that Makerere University and CoVAB specifically have been involved in such efforts through filed activities, vaccinations and animal welfare programs aimed at the control of rabies. He said through research, such efforts were to be intensified from a scientifically informed point of view.
Prof. Sonja Hartnack, from the Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, one of the partners gave an overview of the project. She said the four-year project has seven different work packages while emphasizing that presently, the stakeholders were addressing work package one, that entails Surveillance systems and integrated bite case management. She noted that the communities were crucial in the rabies control efforts and specifically in identifying the barriers for rabies control through research interventions and the development of educational materials for awareness creation.
She made reference to the World organization for Animal Health (WOAH) recommended practices that points out that dog owners are clearly identified as one way through which the barriers to dog vaccination can be addressed in the communities and emphasized responsible dog ownership.
She said it was important to assess which vaccinations approaches are most successful in terms of vaccination coverage, whether there were static points vaccinations, or linked to institutions like Schools or other Veterinary activities or even human health related activities. She said through quantitative and qualitative research, the eRabies project was set to establish what works. She also pointed out the need to increase the laboratory capacity at regional levels as well as taking on rapid tests in the field.
Prof. Sonja Hartnack said the deliberations in the meeting were to inform the efforts towards having an integrated bite case management (IBCM) system by looking at different systems, picking out key data elements, reviewing the challenges of the existing processes for a proper One Health approach.
Dr. Andrew Kambugu, Director, Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) one of the key partners in the eRabies project extended appreciation to the Swiss Government and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) for the grant that is supporting the implementation of the activities. He referred to COVID-19, a Zoonotic disease that affected many people as having come from the contact between animals and humans. He said the model that would come out of the meeting was to be relevant to many. He emphasized the need for increased collaboration between different agencies in Africa, where he noted that many were working in silos. He affirmed that IDI was to give all relevant support needed in the eRabies project.
The deliberations in the workshop shared experiences from varied stakeholders that included the Infectious Diseases Institute experiences of Rabies Surveillance in West Nile region, the respective implementing Local Governments, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries.
Participants identified some of the challenges experienced in timely dog bites reporting that need to be addressed in the surveillance. They included late reporting by the victims, failure to capture data from the private Veterinary Medicine practitioners that handle a number of cases in the communities, omission of the wildlife Veterinarians in the reporting system and the little interaction between the Human Health practitioners and the Veterinarians, coupled with the limited data sharing avenues.
The eRabies project is implemented by Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) in collaboration with the Vetsuisse Faculties, Universities of Bern and Zurich from Switzerland. It is contributing to efforts towards elimination of Rabies by 2030.
UK-based Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) seeks collaboration with CoVAB in Aquatic Animal Health
The College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity on 8th August 2023, hosted a team from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, an executive agency for the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Dr. Richard Paley and Mr. Andrew Wokorac Joseph of the Environment and Animal Health group were in the College courtesy of Dr. John Walakira from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). Their visit is aimed at forging collaboration and support diagnostic and research activities pertaining to aquatic animal health.
The team was welcome to the College by the Principal, Prof. Frank Nobert Mwiine, represented by the Dean, School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Resources, Prof. Robert Tweyongyere. While extending appreciation for the upcoming collaboration, the Principal noted that Uganda is one of the main producers of fisheries products in Sub-Saharan Africa and it is the second largest foreign exchange earner for Uganda. He said the interventions in the collaboration were pertinent given the declining production that is also negatively affecting national and household income and food security which is being addressed by the Government of Uganda through promotion of aquaculture.
Prof. Mwiine highlighted some of the challenges affecting aquaculture that include lack of quality feed and seed as well as technical expertise. He said although fish diseases are yet to be considered a major challenge, with the advances in aquaculture, there is bound to be frequent disease outbreaks. He said anti-microbial resistance and drug residues were inevitable because in the process of managing fish disease, antibiotics are administered. Further he pointed out the limited knowledge and skills in fish health management which falls in the docket of veterinaries but few are well equipped with the requisite skills and knowledge.
He made reference to Makerere University’s vision of innovative teaching, learning and services responsive to national and global needs, and the strategic direction of enhancing and strengthening partnerships with industry, the community through multiple collaborations with universities and other research institutions regionally and globally.
The Principal informed the team that Makerere University offers comprehensive training programs in aquaculture, fisheries production and aquatic animal health at CoVAB and the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS). He said at CoVAB, research in aquatic animal health has expanded to cover core areas of biosecurity and ecosystem health following the one health approach. He emphasized the need for increased collaborative ties and networks with the private sector, research institutions, universities and technical agencies, working closely with the fish farmers.
He explained that at CoVAB, the two Schools synergistically offer training across the graduate and undergraduate programs. He highlighted some of the fisheries/aquaculture research projects ongoing that include Safe Fish that is investigating phages as alternatives to antibiotic use in fish management; Novel Feeds, that is developing a feed formulation for fish larvae; Bioconversion of Industrial waste products in Nile perch , Artificial Intelligence system to balance water quality and feed; Capacity Building in aquatic animal health and environmental health as well as probiotics for use on Tilapia and Nile Perch farms.
Dr. John Walakira from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) noted that there was potential for a long-term relationship between CoVAB and NARO and urged the college to identify gaps that need to be filled in future in the aquaculture industry. He said the team was in the college to establish what it can do in the industry, noting that issues of diseases are recurrent and a preserve of the veterinarians. He noted that aquaculture animal health was growing very fast with over 2.5 billion fingerlings in the region and in the process, diseases are on the increase.
He said the team from Cefas was in the college to establish what was on ground for example the graduate courses as well as training for the practitioners in the industry. He said Africa has been without aquaculture related diseases but now they are getting reported and veterinarians called to take up the challenge. Because of the rich resources in Uganda, it’s time to train practitioners, he said, and that Makerere University especially CoVAB is a focal point especially in dealing with such diseases.
Dr. Richard Paley from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquatic Science (Cefas) while briefing the meeting said Cefas is an International Centre of Excellence involved in the maintenance of the health of wild and farmed seafood to minimize loss and maximize food security. He said as a world leader in marine science and technology, Cefas collects, manages and interprets data on the aquatic environment, biodiversity and fisheries. He their Weymouth lab has over 1100 scientists dedicated to aquatic health bringing together all the necessary disciplines that among many include disease inspection, diagnosis, research and development, microbiology, virology and many more.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) designated Cefas as the WOAH Collaborating Centre for Emerging Aquatic Animal Diseases. He said their aim is to function as a global resource for health and disease research, diagnostics, pathogen detection and description, and knowledge sharing associated with aquatic animals. The meeting was attended among others by the Assoc. Prof. Jesca Nakavuma who is also undertaking research in Safe Fish that is investigating phages as alternatives to antibiotic use in fish management, as well as Veterinary medicine students.
COVAB capacity building engagement on Human Capital Development in Science, Technology, and Innovation Industrialization
The College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Bio-security (COVAB) Human Capital Development Project held a five-day capacity building training at Esella Hotel, Kira to equip the project’s staff and protégé with knowledge and skills in product value chain industrialization.
During the workshop which ran from 24th to 28th July 2023 staff and Protégé were imparted with knowledge on commercialization of an innovative product, strategic financial management, strategic planning and management, business planning, policy formulation and management.
At the opening ceremony, the Superintendent of Industrial Value Chains Development, Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI)- Office of the President, Dr. Cosmas Mwikirize pointed out that people were the most important in the process of development.
“In the development tree, people are the most important ingredient to development. No country can be better than the quality of its human resource,” said Dr. Mwikirize, adding that the mentorship model is important given that it gives opportunity to people to develop technologies, and hence no need to look for jobs.”
He further encouraged participants to embrace Science, Technology, and Innovation because of its big contribution to national GDP. “STI is the way out, and if you want a good place to invest your money, look at your students who have good ideas and start pulling resources. Invest in your people’s ideas and you will not go wrong,” said Dr. Mwikirize.
The protégés who participated in the workshop were all spread under STI Value Chain Economies which include the engineering economy, mobility, beauty and apparel, the digital economy, Agro security and the pathogenic economy.
In his welcome remarks, the Principal for the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity, Prof. Frank Norbert Mwiine appreciated government support towards research and mentorship initiatives. “We thank the Government of Uganda for the support towards research and innovation through funding several projects, and for equipping the University with resources and laboratories for quality research,” said Prof. Mwiine.
Prof. Mwiine further emphasized the benefits of research, stating that nations need research to evolve. Further, he emphasized that research and innovation is the way through whcih the University gives back to society.
The Human Capital Development Project is championed by Dr. Claire Mack Mugasa, who is the Principal Investigator of this initiative. Dr. Mugasa highlighted the need for equipping scientists, researchers and innovators with specialized techniques which is a critical aspect in national development and industrialization.
“We have our scientists and innovators working separately and are not in touch with one another in their production lines, but with this mentorship programme, we are ensuring that the scientists have specialized skills, techniques, and knowledge that is key in industrialization,” said Dr. Mugasa, adding that, “with some amount of redirection and orientation, the scientists will be brought together in a foundry network.”
The Human Capital Development Initiative is funded by the Government of Uganda through Science, Technology, and Innovation-Office of the President.
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