Boost for African medical innovation


A R370-million partnership to develop new medicines, vaccines and other technologies against HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria was announced last week by the South African Medical Research Council and the University of Cape Town.

The funding and support partners are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Health.

The partnership brings together government, academia, industry to work towards drug and vaccine discovery. Led by South African scientists, the partnership will aim to harnesses the collective skills and research networks in and outside South Africa to deliver life-saving benefits.

Collectively HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria not only contribute to Africa’s high disease burden, but also the world’s.

“Africa’s population is set to double by 2050, and Africa needs to start discovering and developing medicines for its own people,” says Professor Kelly Chibale, founder and director of UCT’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D).

Two programmes

The multi-year partnerships will support two distinct programmes:

In the first programme, researchers from across South Africa will compete for funding from the MRC’s Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP) earmarked for the development of AIDS and TB vaccines.

This initiative has received $11.7-million (about R125-million) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, R130-million from the Department of Science and Technology, and R60-million from the Department of Health.

SHIP’s role will be to build on the scientific leadership of South African scientists in these diseases and establish, fund and manage research programmes on innovative products and approaches to prevent AIDS and TB.

The second programme will enable UCT’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) to build on its experiences and track record in integrated modern drug discovery and preclinical development to the develop novel clinical drug candidtes to address TB and malaria challenges.

In addition to R50-million funding from SHIP and the Technology Innovation Agency, H3-D will receive $5 million (about R55-million) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation over five years.

African science solutions

The partnerships also aim to fulfil the longer-term goal to develop a critical mass of top-flight South African scientists in the field, able to compete at high international levels.

“We believe our partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the MRC and government helps us develop Africa-generated solutions to African problems,” Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo, UCT’s acting vice-chancellor, said at the MRC offices in Tygerberg outside Cape Town last week.

He said that UCT’s HD-3 showed that research not only created new knowledge but new jobs, career opportunities, and infrastructure – and reversed the brain drain.

“It’s exciting to come and work in Africa,” he said.

Dr Trevor Mundel, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Programme, said the partnerships had enormous potential to tackle the tough challenges and support those most in need in South Africa and across the continent.

“South Africa has world-class researchers and the infrastructure necessary to develop the kinds of innovative health solutions needed to accelerate progress against TB, HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases,” he said.

Edited version of a story first published in UCT’s Monday Monthly. Published here with kind permission.