2023 was an eventful year for the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research, characterized by noteworthy achievements and successes. As we enter 2024, we take a moment to look back and celebrate the highlights of the past year.

The year began with two inaugurations: both the University of California Malaria Initiative (UCMI) and Target Malaria inaugurated state-of-the-art insectaries and laboratory spaces. UCMI completed the development of a new insectary and molecular biology laboratory at the University of São Tomé and Príncipe (STP), to further their mission to contribute to the elimination of malaria. Target Malaria completed a new insectary and laboratory space at the University of Ghana to enhance infrastructure for mosquito research according to internationally recognized practices.

The Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research organized a side event on the margins of the third International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2023) held in late November in Lusaka, Zambia, on how novel genetic approaches could be applied to achieve the African Union’s goal of eliminating malaria from the continent. Convened by the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), under the theme, "Breaking barriers: repositioning Africa in the global health architecture", this year’s CPHIA brought together over 5000 scientists, policymakers, and advocates worldwide to spotlight African science and innovation, strengthen local, regional and global collaboration, and serve as a catalyst to drive sustainable progress against longstanding and emerging health threats.

The session was chaired by Dr. Abraham Mnzava, African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), and featured Naima Sykes, Target Malaria, Felista Tarimo, Ifakara Health Institute (IHI), and Edward Lukyamuzi, Pan-Africa Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA). Speakers presented case studies highlighting initiatives co-led by African research institutions, aimed at enhancing the continent’s capacity to harness novel genetic approaches including gene drive technology for malaria control tailored to Africa’s needs and priorities. Presentations highlighted research progress to date and the role of partnerships in fostering research and development of new tools, as well as potential avenues to further support ongoing research endeavors. 

By Kristine Grace N. Tome, Program Officer II, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)

ISAAA Inc., in partnership with the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research and the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC), gathered approximately 834 online participants during the webinar “Genetic Tools for Conservation and Health: What's the Role of Gene Drives?” held on November 16. The online session is the first of the 2023 Gene Drive Webinar Series that focuses on the interests of specific countries and aims to promote a productive and balanced conversation on the benefits and risks of possible gene drive applications relevant to national priorities. The Philippines, picked as the first country to be engaged in the webinar series, has been at the forefront of biotechnology research and regulation in Asia for a long time and plays an important role in shaping the region’s views on novel technologies and developing expertise.

By Dr. Martin Lukindu, Postdoctoral Researcher, Target Malaria

The World Health Organization's World Malaria Report 2023, released today, paints a concerning picture of the global state of malaria in 2022. Despite continued efforts, malaria remains a significant public health challenge, with both malaria incidence and mortality higher now than they were before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This scenario is exacerbated by the growing impact of climate change, which, alongside other challenges, threatens to reverse progress in the fight against the disease.

The report indicates an increase in global malaria cases, which rose to approximately 249 million in 2022, up by 5 million compared to 2021. Global deaths from the disease were estimated at 608,000, a nearly 6% increase since 2019. Particularly alarming is the continued high burden of the disease in Africa. The African region disproportionally bore the brunt of the malaria burden in 2022, accounting for 94% of global malaria cases and 95% of all malaria deaths. About 78% of these deaths occurred in children under the age of five. Uganda, where I live and work, is part of a group of five countries, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea, identified by the report as collectively accounting for a majority of the increase in global malaria cases.

By Zachary Stavrou – Dowd, Research Technician, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

We live on a pale blue dot where all life is connected – from single cells to blue whales. Our actions here impact not only our health but all life. To ensure our continued survival, we need an integrated approach that encompasses the environment, human health and animal health. This is what we call the One Health approach.

The UK Mission to the EU recently hosted a One Health Fair to showcase how UK institutions are pioneering solutions in this holistic approach. The exhibits ranged from environmental sampling for detecting human and animal pathogens to using AI to protect crucial honeybee colonies. The Functional Genetics group at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) joined colleagues from Target Malaria to showcase how functional genetics and gene drive can be used as a One Health solution, in particular through the development of innovative vector-disease control solutions.