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[afro-nets] Africa gets 'holistic' drug discovery centre

Africa gets 'holistic' drug discovery centre

Munyaradzi Makoni
14 April 2011 

[CAPE TOWN] A "holistic" research centre described as the first of its kind in 
Sub-Saharan Africa to bridge the gap between basic sciences and drug 
development was launched in South Africa last week (7 April). 

The Drug Discovery and Development Centre, known by the acronym H-3D, will 
focus on developing and testing preclinical drug candidates for diseases 
afflicting the continent, and will train African scientists in skills needed 
for drug discovery, integrating medicinal chemistry, biology and pharmacology.

It will allow "Africans to find their own solutions to their own health 
problems," said Kelly Chibale, founding director and a chemist at University of 
Cape Town (UCT), which will host the centre. 

The aim is to achieve a "critical mass of personnel" to help make Africa 
competitive enough to attract  contracts from the pharmaceutical industry and 
research organisations, and create jobs in Africa, Chibale said.

"South Africa has a strong reputation in developing basic sciences and clinical 
studies, so researchers will bridge the gap that has always existed in 
translating knowledge into new medicines," Chibale told SciDev.Net. But he 
added that even South Africa, the most technologically advanced economy in 
Sub-Saharan Africa, has gaps in knowledge and expertise of the drug discovery 
chain ­ something the centre will try to fill.

Research will focus on drugs for the treatment of malaria, tuberculosis and 
cardio-vascular diseases. 

Mamphela Ramphele, chairperson of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), South 
Africa, said researchers should seize this opportunity to also tackle diseases 
such as typhoid, cholera and river blindness, which are largely confined to 

But it will be a long time before drugs could start rolling out, Chibale 
cautioned: "I don't want to create any unrealistic expectations. We will kiss 
many frogs before meeting the prince." 

Timothy Wells, chief scientific officer at the Medicines for Malaria Venture 
(MMV) told SciDev.Net the centre is an opportunity to provide original 
home-grown drugs for diseases that developed countries hardly pay attention to. 

Apart from the MMV, the centre is collaborating with the US National Institutes 
of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and 
pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline.

The MMV and the TIA will co-fund H-3D to the tune of 20 million rand (around 
US$3 million) for the next four years. The MMV will also sponsor mentoring 
programmes for South African researchers.

Dr. Leela McCullough
Director of Information Services
AED-SATELLIFE Center for Health Information and Technology
"Putting Information into the Hands that Heal"

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