New consortium aims to better diagnose, monitor and clinically manage current and future epidemics in Africa

The University of Antwerp is proud to announce its pivotal role in the newly launched project GenPath Africa (“Genomic Surveillance to control pathogen infections in Africa”), which will receive five million EUR from the European Union under its Research and Innovation Programme Horizon Europe. The project is supported by the Global Health EDCTP3 Joint Undertaking and is one of six projects that form a newly created Genomic Epidemiology Network to advance the impact of genomic surveillance in Africa and globally.

GenPath Africa is coordinated by Prof Tulio de Oliveira from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The consortium of epidemiologists, clinicians, bioinformaticians, immunologists, and virologists aims to use genomic epidemiology to address important public health issues in South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique such as HIV-1, Tuberculosis, and antimicrobial resistance. The project will also quickly survey and respond to epidemics that are being amplified by climate change such as Rift Valley Fever. Through its project activities, GenPath Africa will strengthen capacities to combat drug-resistant HIV-1 and TB through precision medicine and use genomic epidemiology to guide the public health response. As part of its One Health approach, the project will also conduct early warning in wastewater and animal surveillance to detect emerging pathogens.

 “Despite the rapid expansion of genomic sequencing capacity and increased genomic surveillance during the Covid-19 pandemic, the global response to SARS-CoV-2 illuminated the barriers that prevent the world from having readily available, reliable, and comprehensive genomic data to aid public health decision-making. Specifically, the ability to rapidly analyse and interpret the data for public health impact is severely limited,” says De Oliveira.

“We need to plan for future pandemics by increasing genomic surveillance to other pathogens in Africa to be able to quickly detect new emergent epidemics. The GenPath Africa team is well-placed to apply genomic epidemiology to impact on current and emerging epidemics in southern and eastern Africa.”

In addition to the University of Antwerp in Belgium and Stellenbosch University in South Africa, other members of the consortium include the National Institute of Health of Mozambique, the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, and LINQ management GmbH in Berlin, Germany.

UAntwerp’s role in the project: Transforming Precision Medicine and Public Health

At the heart of the GenPath Africa project is the groundbreaking application of whole genome sequencing to clinical Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates from patients diagnosed with rifampicin-resistant tuberculosis (TB) in a routine healthcare setting. This pioneering approach will pave the way for precision medicine, precision public health, and precision prevention in TB control. Notably, this marks the first implementation of its kind in a low-and-middle-income country burdened by high TB incidence outside of a clinical trial setting.

Meet the UAntwerp researchers

Leading this transformative project at University of Antwerp are distinguished researchers:

  • Prof. Annelies Van Rie, a clinician by training, epidemiologist, and renowned expert in clinical TB research. With years of experience in tuberculosis research across multiple countries, including South Africa, Prof. Van Rie brings a wealth of knowledge to the GenPath Africa team. As she puts it, "Innovation in clinical genomic epidemiology is the driving force of the TORCH consortium at the University of Antwerp. Our vision is to revolutionize TB control in Africa through precision medicine and bring genomics to the clinic and the community."
  • Dr. Anzaan Dippenaar, a molecular biologist and senior researcher at the University of Antwerp. With over a decade of experience in TB research in South Africa, Dr. Dippenaar's expertise is instrumental in the project's success.

In its mission to advance the impact of genomic surveillance, GenPath Africa has strong partners by its side. It is one of six projects that were created to form a Genomic Epidemiology Network in Sub-Saharan Africa. Together, this powerful new partnership aims to:

1.      Increase the use of genomic epidemiology across Africa to answer critical public health questions.

2.      Create data platforms through which integrated epidemiologic, clinical, and genomic data can be collected and combined.

3.      Implement selected pilot projects that apply genomic epidemiology to specific disease areas and use the results to inform public health decision-making and product development.

4.      Establish a community of practice, training programmes, and fellowship opportunities in genomic epidemiology on the continent.

About GenPath Africa

GenPath Africa is a 48-month project funded by the European Union under its Research and Innovation Programme Horizon Europe. It is supported by the Global Health EDCTP3 Joint Undertaking, which builds on the first and second European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) programmes. This new joint undertaking is a partnership between the EU and the EDCTP Association, whose members are several European and African countries. The partnership will deliver new solutions for reducing the burden of infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa and strengthen research capacities to prepare and respond to re-emerging infectious diseases in this region and across the world.