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2013

March

Collaboration with pharmaceutical giant to foster drug development in Africa

UCT Chemistry

H3-D director Prof Kelly Chibale, (front centre) with his research team. H3-D's partnership with Novartis will augment support already provided by the South African government's Department of Science & Technology and Technology Innovation Agency to build drug discovery and development capabilities on the African continent.

UCT and the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) are working together to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical research to advance innovative medicines that treat African patients.

The collaboration with the university's Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D), announced on 28 February at NIBR headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the Health Equity Symposium: Science & Medicine in Africa, is an important step towards building drug discovery and development capabilities in Africa - and educating the next generation of drug-discovery scientists in Africa.

A major goal of this collaboration is to develop a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-level clinical study site in Cape Town to conduct proof-of-concept studies of new compounds developed at H3-D.

Additionally, Novartis will provide H3-D with new chemical starting points for the design of medicines against tuberculosis (TB), and conduct joint programmes on malaria research with the Singapore-based Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD).

Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price said: "UCT is committed to providing a meeting point for Western and African expertise to collaborate on solving problems such as Africa's substantial burden of disease. This partnership with a pharmaceutical giant of Novartis' calibre has the potential to benefit the entire continent."

H3-D is the first drug discovery centre in Africa, with an initial focus on TB and malaria, two top medical needs on the continent. Last year, the first compound developed by H3-D was approved by the Medicines for Malaria Venture as a pre-clinical anti-malarial candidate. NIBR is the pharmaceutical research organisation for Novartis, a global healthcare company, and has ten major research sites around the globe working on many diseases, including neglected infectious diseases that disproportionately affect people in the developing world.

Key elements of the H3-D and Novartis collaboration include:

  • building capabilities in pre-clinical and clinical research areas, including an FDA-level clinical study site to test new molecular entities, and establishing research collaborations in malaria and TB;
  • organising scientific exchange programmes between Novartis and H3-D scientists to address unmet medical needs in Africa, starting with TB and malaria, and knowledge-sharing in various disciplines, including pharmacology, computational and medicinal chemistry, and clinical sciences. Programmes will include internships, postdoctoral fellowships and sabbaticals both in Cape Town and at Novartis campuses around the world; and
  • financial support from the Novartis Research Foundation to fund training programmes, fellowship grants and laboratory upgrades at H3-D.

H3-D director Professor Kelly Chibale said: "This partnership with Novartis will augment support already provided by the South African government's Department of Science & Technology and Technology Innovation Agency to build drug discovery and development capabilities on the African continent. It will help us address medical needs in South Africa and the continent, and build strong translational research capabilities that will create commercial opportunities for the country.

"Not only will Novartis help with our efforts to build a translational research infrastructure, it will also help train a new generation of drug discovery scientists who are familiar with the continent and who can benefit most from this expertise."

Already, three H3-D scientists have received training at Novartis on the use of drug discovery technology, through the internship programme at Novartis global headquarters in Basel, Switzerland; and several Novartis scientists have taken or are scheduled to take a sabbatical at H3-D.