The University of Cape Town's Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) is to collaborate with global pharmaceutical firm Novartis to narrow the gap between science and clinical research in order to develop medicines to treat patients in Africa.
The collaboration between UCT and the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research was announced at the Health Equity Symposium: Science & Medicine in Africa at the NIBR headquarters in Cambridge Massachusetts last Thursday.
Its aim is to develop an FDA-level clinical study site in Cape Town to carry out proof-of-concept studies of new compounds developed at H3-D.
"UCT is committed to providing a meeting point for Western and African expertise to collaborate on solving problems such as Africa's burden of disease," the university's vice-chancellor, Max Price, said in a statement.
"This partnership with a pharmaceutical giant of Novartis' calibre has the potential to benefit the entire continent."
Novartis will provide H3-D with new chemical starting points for the design of medicines against tuberculosis, as well as conduct joint programmes on malaria research with the Singapore-based Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases.
UCT's H3-D is the first drug discovery centre in Africa with an initial focus on TB and malaria.
In 2012, H3-D got approval from the Medicines for Malaria Venture for the compound it developed as a pre-clinical anti-malarial candidate.
The collaboration will also include scientific exchange programmes between H3-D and Novartis scientists to address medical needs and encourage knowledge sharing in disciplines such as pharmacology, computational and medicinal chemistry and clinical sciences.
It will also comprise financial support from the Novartis Research Foundation to fund training programmes, fellowship grants and laboratory upgrades at H3-D.
"This partnership with Novartis will augment support already provided by the South African government's Department of Science and Technology and Technology Innovation Agency to build drug discovery and development capabilities on the African continent," said H3-D director Kelly Chibale.
"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 but it will help train a new generation of drug discovery scientists who are familiar with the continent and can most benefit from this expertise," he said.
Three H3-D scientists have already received drug discovery technology training from Novartis at its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland and several Novartis scientists are scheduled to take their sabbaticals at H3-D.