Cape Town — An African scientist on the cutting edge of research into drugs which have the potential to both protect and cure people from malaria in a single dose has been named as one of “the world's 50 greatest leaders” by Fortune, the American business magazine.
Professor Kelly Chibale, a Zambian-born chemist, has been recognised for his work as the founder and director of the continent's first integrated drug discovery centre at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa.
The recognition comes just ahead of World Malaria Day. Reacting, Chibale told a UCT journalist that the news was “totally unexpected and overwhelming.”
He said that he wanted to debunk the myth that Africa could not be a source of health innovation.
“Africa has largely been a recipient of Western research,” he said. “We need to demonstrate that [it] has more to offer than the mere opportunity for human clinical trials. Africa is now also a place for malaria drug discovery and development.
“It is important to combat malaria, not just because of the unacceptably high numbers of deaths it is responsible for, especially among our children, but also because malaria continues to choke economic growth on the continent.”
He founded the drug discovery centre, known as H3D, in 2011 to pioneer world-class research on new drugs. It works mainly in the fields of malaria and tuberculosis and Chibale hopes it will help to discover drugs which overcome the resistance which is developing to earlier generations of drugs.
H3D has identified two anti-malarial “development candidates” – identified as MMV048 and UCT943 – which have potential to cure and protect in a single dose, according to an earlier UCT news release.
“The ability of MMV048 to block all life-cycle stages of the malaria parasite, offer protection against infection as well as potentially block transmission of the parasite from person to person suggests that this compound could contribute to the eradication of malaria,” Chibale has said.
He was named by Fortune along with figures such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the presidents of France, Emmanuel Macron, and South Korea, Moon Jae-in, the tennis player Serena Williams, Apple CEO Tim Cook and the #MeToo Movement.
Fortune said it chooses leaders “who are using their power and influence to make the world a better place”. Its citation said in part:
“In much of Africa, the infrastructure to support scientific research is sorely lacking. But Chibale is working to change that. The Zambian chemist has built H3D, Africa’s first integrated drug discovery center, at the University of Cape Town.
“His team now includes more than 90 researchers; they work out of state-of-the-art facilities thanks to partnerships with the Gates Foundation, Novartis, and South Africa’s government.”