Science partnerships to fast-track drug discovery and development in Africa

Infectious diseases are responsible for nearly 70% of deaths in Africa each year. Globally, drug-resistant infections are on the rise, making the search for new and effective medicines increasingly urgent.

Africa accounts for 17.5% of the global population. It is the most genetically diverse region in the world. This, coupled with the continent’s high disease burden, offers the ideal conditions to develop new and effective drugs. Yet only 3.5% of clinical trials take place in Africa.

In 2010 Professor Kelly Chibale founded the Holistic Drug Discovery and Development (H3D) Centre at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Scientists working at the H3D Centre are developing new drugs to treat an array of infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and corona viruses.

Under the UK-South Africa Newton Fund partnership, scientists are using the expertise and new technological platforms being developed at the H3D Centre to address the threat of antimicrobial resistance.

H3D researchers collaborated with the UK’s Universities of Leeds, Oxford and Warwick to combat gram-negative bacteria that are increasingly resistant to most available antibiotics.  This collaboration laid the foundation for the development of novel antibiotics, particularly demonstrating the potential of a new class of boron-based antibiotics with the ability to address drug resistant gram-negative bacterial infections.

The team are also part of two UK-SA consortia led by Rhodes University and the University of Pretoria to accelerate the establishment of antimicrobial resistance drug discovery capacity in South Africa, and to leverage the country’s extensive natural product diversity to identify novel starting points for the development of antibiotics. H3D’s role in these consortia was to establish a national antimicrobial resistance biology platform to support antimicrobial resistance drug discovery.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the compounds collected from these projects were screened for potential properties to treat the virus. These chemical libraries will be a useful resource to tackle other infectious diseases in future.

On a national and regional level, the discovery and development of drugs in African countries will promote health equity and ensure treatments are optimised for African patients. Clinical trials conducted locally that factor in genetic and environmental factors will improve treatment outcomes. And training African-based scientists will sustain this work into the future.

On a global level, these international collaborations will contribute to a pipeline of new treatments for deadly and drug-resistant infectious diseases. The ongoing work at the H3D Centre shows that Africa can be a key player in innovative pharmaceutical research and development. And these projects will pave the way for larger scale projects tackling infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance.

“Historically the discovery of new medicines has mostly occurred in the Global North, where the infrastructure, technologies and the critical mass of talent has existed. Africa has not yet reached that level and yet the continent bears a very heavy disease burden with significant implications on morbidity and mortality, but also impacts on our economies. It is critically important for Africans to be equipped to contribute to finding solutions to these human health challenges.” – Professor Kelly Chibale, Founder of the Holistic Drug Discovery and Development Centre at the University of Cape Town

Find out more about the research projects in this video:

Professor Kelly Chibale is involved in three Newton Fund projects:

Developing the Next Generation of b-lactamase Inhibitors and Monobactam Antibiotics

Project leads: Professor Kelly Chibale, University of Cape Town, South Africa and Professor Chris Schofield, University of Oxford, UK

Supporting project team: Dr Vinayak Singh (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Alissa Myrick (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Joe Eyermann (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Susan Winks (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Richard Gessner (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Greg Basarab (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Dale Taylor (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Liezl Gibhard (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Nina Lawrence (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Dom Bellini (Oxford University), Dr Grant Boyle (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Juergen Brem (Oxford University), Dr John Moat (Warwick University), Dr Frank Von Delft (Oxford University), Professor Colin Fishwick (Leeds University), Professor Chris Dowson (Warwick University), Hector Newman (Warwick University), Dr Lizbe Koekemoer (University of Cape Town, SA), Dr Stephen Feinberg (University of Cape Town, SA), Ronnett Seldon (University of Cape Town, SA), Tando Ntsabo (University of Cape Town, SA), Trevor Finch (University of Cape Town, SA), Zama Ngqumba (University of Cape Town, SA)

This project was supported by the: Strategic Health Innovation Partnership (SHIP) – a partnership between the South African Medical Research Council and the Department of Science and Innovation, Medical Research Council-part of UK Research and Innovation. Co-funded by the Technology Innovation Agency, Cheney Fellowship, Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)

 

Setting up the antimicrobial resistance screening centre

Project Leads: Professor Rosemary Dorrington, Rhodes University, South Africa, consortium partners and Professor Kelly Chibale, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Supporting project team: Dr Carel Oosthuizen (University of Cape Town, South Africa), Dr Vinayak Singh (University of Cape Town, South Africa), Dr Greg Basarab (University of Cape Town, South Africa), Dr Susan Winks (University of Cape Town, South Africa), Deidre van Rooyen (University of Cape Town, South Africa)

This project was supported by the: Strategic Health Innovation Partnership (SHIP) – a partnership between the South African Medical Research Council and the Department of Science and Innovation, Medical Research Council-part of UK Research and Innovation. Co-funded by Technology Innovation Agency, an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation

 

Development of antimicrobial peptides against gram-negative antibiotic resistant pathogens

Project Leads: Professor Anabella Gaspar, University of Pretoria, South Africa, consortium partners and Professor Kelly Chibale, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Supporting project team: Dr Carel Oosthuizen (University of cape town, South Africa), Dr Vinayak Singh (University of cape Town, South Africa), Dr Greg Basarab (University of Cape Town, South Africa), and Dr Susan Winks (University of Cape Town, South Africa)

This project was supported by the: Strategic Health Innovation Partnership (SHIP) – a partnership between the South African Medical Research Council and the Department of Science and Innovation, Medical Research Council- part of UK Research and Innovation. Co-funded by Technology Innovation Agency, an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation.