Press Release: Antibiotic-resistant sepsis still claiming newborn lives in Africa

July 27, 2023

Padova (Italy), 27 July 2023 – A new European-African collaboration to improve the way infections in newborns are treated is launching today. The project, called SNIP-AFRICA, aims to reduce mortality among neonates in hospital with sepsis in Africa, in an era of increasing antimicrobial resistance.

Funded by the European Union under the Global Health EDCTP3 Programme, SNIP-AFRICA will conduct an adaptive trial to identify the best drug regimens and doses for difficult-to-treat infections and sepsis, which threaten the lives of newborns in neonatal units in sub-Saharan African countries.

“SNIP-AFRICA is a landmark project that will bring together leading scientists from Africa and Europe to address this major global health challenge,” said Carlo Giaquinto, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Padova, President of Fondazione Penta ETS (Italy) and project coordinator. “We believe that this project will help us identify new and better treatments for newborn sepsis, which is a leading cause of death in newborns in Africa.”

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. In newborns, sepsis is often caused by bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics, which makes it even more difficult to treat.

Every year, 214,000 newborn babies die of sepsis that has become resistant to antibiotics, making it a major health threat worldwide. Low- and middle-income countries, especially in Africa, are particularly affected by this problem due to the lack of resources for diagnosis and treatment.

What’s more, the heterogeneous nature of sepsis means that relevant research questions may vary greatly from one hospital to another, posing a challenge for traditional clinical trials to comprehensively grasp the complexities and variations of this condition, and to find treatments suitable for multiple settings.The SNIP-AFRICA trial will use an adaptive platform design, which allows researchers to adjust the trial as it progresses based on the results of early data. In comparison to traditional trial designs, adaptive platform trials can address multiple research questions simultaneously, providing a more personalised approach to researching neonatal sepsis.

“SNIP-AFRICA is a critical step in the fight against newborn sepsis,” said Julia Bielicki, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Neonatal and Paediatric Infection of St George’s University of London (United Kingdom), and SNIP-AFRICA scientific coordinator. “We are excited to see this project get underway, and we are confident that it will make a significant difference in the lives of newborns in Africa.”

The trial plans to enroll 1,200 neonates in six neonatal intensive care units in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. The first patients are expected to be enrolled in June 2025.

To guarantee the sustainability of the SNIP-AFRICA platform, the Consortium will also invest in building the capacity of African researchers and clinicians to develop and implement future adaptive trials, fostering a culture of knowledge-sharing and collaboration. Through this project, we aspire to build a robust network of trained investigators and sites capable of designing and conducting complex clinical trials in challenging environments.

SNIP-AFRICA will be coordinated by Fondazione Penta ETS, while St George’s University of London will be responsible for scientific oversight. As one of the clinical research sites, MU-JHU Research Collaboration in Kampala Uganda will contribute to the newborn drug treatment clinical trial, clinical and microbiological surveillance, parent, and other stakeholder engagement in newborn treatment trials.

Overall, ten project partners from European and African countries will come together to constitute a diverse Consortium of partners with extensive experience in neonatology and in designing and conducting randomised controlled trials in Africa, including adaptive trials. SNIP-AFRICA’s ambition is to innovate research on severe childhood infections, particularly neonatal sepsis. By using novel adaptive trial design elements, the project will generate evidence to improve antibiotic treatment of this deadly condition. This will significantly improve the wellbeing of newborns and infants, who are at the highest risk of infection from difficult-to-treat bacteria.

Notes for editors
SNIP-AFRICA (project No. 101103201) is part of the EDCTP3 Programme supported by the European Union. Project coordination is managed by Fondazione Penta ETS (Padova, Italy), whereas scientific coordination is managed by St George’s, University of London (London, United Kingdom). Other partners are: University College London (London, United Kingdom); African Research Collaboration for Health (Kilifi, Kenya); Stellenbosch University (Stellenbosch, South Africa); Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology Kumasi (Kumasi, Ghana); DNDi-GARDP Southern Africa NPC (Cape Town, South Africa); MUJHU Care (Kampala, Uganda); Ifakara Health Institute Trust (Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania); University of Antwerp (Antwerp, Belgium).

About Penta:
Penta is an international independent scientific network devoted to advancing research on optimising the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases in children, globally.
More than 30 years since its creation, Penta is today one of the most prominent scientific organisations dedicated to research on maternal and childhood infections, such as HIV and viral infections, fungal infections, respiratory infections (COVID-19, RSV) and severe bacterial infections.

About MU-JHU Care Ltd
MU-JHU Care LTD is an HIV research, prevention, care, and training facility located on Upper Mulago Hill in the city of Kampala, in operation since 1988. MU-JHU has carried out several important research investigations that have influenced both international and domestic policy. These studies modified the debate on better maternal and paediatric HIV care as well as the eradication of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Over the last decade, we have progressively expanded our clinical and implementation science-research portfolio to include Primary HIV prevention, Tuberculosis diagnosis and management, Paediatric neuro-development assessment and interventions, Birth-defects surveillance, Women’s health (including bone health and reproductive health), the development of a maternal vaccine platform to assess Group-B Streptococcus and other promising vaccines.

Contact information
For media inquiries and further information, please contact:
Francesca Mazzetto

Penta Senior Communications Manager                                       

The SNIP-AFRICA project (101103201) is supported by the Global Health EDCTP3 and its members (the European Union and the EDCTP Association)

Romana Nabbosa