New director announced for leading malaria research programme in Kenya

Dr Philip Bejon has been appointed as new Director of the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi, Kenya, one of the Wellcome Trust’s major overseas programmes.

The KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme is well known internationally for its work tackling malaria and other infectious diseases, particularly bacterial and viral childhood infections. With Trust links to Kenya since the 1940s, the programme was formally established in 1989, in partnership with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). It conducts basic and clinical research in parallel, with results feeding directly into local and international health policy, and aims to expand the country’s capacity to conduct multidisciplinary research that is strong, sustainable and internationally competitive.

Strong community links are at the heart of the programme, with an emphasis on capacity building and training to build scientific leadership and create a critical mass of support from trained research and non-research staff.

Dr Bejon is a clinical epidemiologist and has been working with the programme the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme since 2002, specialising in vaccine development. He was based in Oxford in 2006 to complete specialist clinical training and was then a Senior Fellow in the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre. He returned to Kilifi in 2013, supported by a Medical Research Council Clinician-Scientist Fellowship, working on spatial and genomic epidemiology of malaria hotspots in order to inform targeted control measures.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, says: “We are very pleased that Philip Bejon has agreed to take up the role as Director of the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme. Philip is a very well-respected researcher and his years of experience to date with the programme enable him to know the aims of the programme and inform him in directing its future path to improve and strengthen science not only in Kenya but across Africa.”

Dr Bejon says: “I am really delighted to have the opportunity to work as Director. When I started as a PhD student from Oxford I was determined to come and work in the programme because I thought it was the leading institution for research on human health in Africa. It has continued to grow and to retain its lead position in research and in building capacity in Africa, reflecting the skill and dedication of the staff who work there.”

Dr Bejon will take up his new post on 1 September 2014. His appointment follows the decision by outgoing Director Professor Kevin Marsh to leave the programme and work with a range of African and UK-partnered institutions to strengthen scientific capacity in Africa. Professor Marsh founded the research programme with colleagues including Bill Watkins, Bob Snow, Charles Newton and Norbert Peshu, in 1989 and has been Director since its inception.

Professor Marsh says: “It has been a pleasure leading the programme and watching it grow extensively over the past 25 years, gaining not only a strong reputation internationally but building a foundation for the development of East African researchers and leaders. I am delighted that Philip will be taking my place as Director as he is an exceptional researcher and supports the programme’s vision of integrating high-quality science with building research capacity in East Africa.”

Professor Solomon Mpoke, Director of KEMRI, says: “We heartily congratulate Dr Bejon following his appointment as Executive Director of KWTRP. Dr Bejon brings renewed vigor from his youthfulness, wide research expertise and unique qualities of positive engagement with programme staff, external and local partners, the community and other stakeholders. He brings critical elements necessary to propel the programme to even greater heights and a brighter future”.