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Grand Challenges Africa Round 10 – 2nd Drug Discovery Call

Funding Call Details

Request for Proposals on 2nd Drug Discovery Call - Grand Challenges Africa Round 10

Application due by 7th July 2020, 17.00hrs East Africa Time (EAT)

Contact for any queries.

1. Overview

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS), through its Grand Challenges Africa programme, The Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) came together in 2018 to expand and strengthen the drug discovery community in Africa. Specifically, this idea seeks to target the best African scientists in drug discovery either already working in the field or whose expertise can be leveraged to bring positive change while at the same time create a cohort of future leaders to build and sustain world-class research teams in this science. We seek to form interlinkages within the continent to develop drug discovery teams with successful innovative projects and give an opportunity to connect to mentors and drug discovery networks outside the continent.

The first cohort of eight drug discovery scientists was successfully awarded, in June 2019, after a rigorous selection process. This is therefore an invitation to be part of the second next phase of support for the drug discovery call 2020.

2. Background

Inter-disciplinary excellence in drug discovery is a critical prerequisite to successful drug development but remains a highly neglected area for the African continent. On the other hand, finding new chemical entities using market-driven approaches has skewed the focus on target diseases, with qualifying entities for clinical development, away from diseases of the developing world. This dearth in drug development in Africa has resulted in a subtle disconnect between researchers and the population on one hand and diseases for which they are innovating the drugs on the other. ‘One of the keys to success in the identification of new medicines is proximity to patients. Thus having drug discovery scientists who understand, on a daily basis, the devastating effects of the diseases they are tackling close to the patients offers unquantifiable benefits’. Collaborative efforts built up across multiple teams as exemplified in global health drug discovery has shown that research capacity increases significantly when external contributors converge their complementary strengths, a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Current approaches for drug discovery, especially where the goal is to build drug discovery capacity on the African continent, need to be supported in a manner that contributes to long term sustainability. 

3. Program Goal

We seek to support exciting new drug discovery projects in Africa. A secondary objective is to strengthen drug discovery capabilities in Africa and create a project-driven African drug discovery network.

This program is a partnership between the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D).

Applications will be assessed and selected based on scientific merit and their potential to advance the drug discovery process. Selected applicants will also benefit from a network of drug discovery scientists in Africa and across the globe, linking them to peers, mentors and providing them with access to resources and technologies.  There will be a strong preference for Letters of Intent focusing on Malaria or Tuberculosis (TB) but good ideas in Neglected Tropical Diseases and antibiotic-resistant microbes within the broader context of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) will be considered.


What we are looking to accomplish: 

  • Identify new chemical entities (NCEs) with potential for drug development in diseases of local relevance for Africa, starting with small molecule hits for subsequent hit-to-lead and lead optimization campaigns. 
  • Expand research capacity for drug discovery within qualifying institutions.
  • Strengthen the drug discovery network by building intra-Africa and global links including those identified as having basic and translational science capacities.

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be a citizen or a resident of an African country with tenure during the period of the project.
  • Have a creative idea for a drug discovery project based on one or more of the following:
  • biological targets
  • biological screens or assays
  • small molecule starting points (hits or leads including purified and characterized natural products)
  • in-vitro and in vivo DMPK | ADME assays and related technologies
  • Work in drug discovery on the African continent
  • Be willing, interested, and able to collaborate with experts across the continent to share and develop best practices and approaches for drug discovery
  • Not have received funding from this scheme before. Current grantees from cohort 1 are not eligible to apply.

What we are NOT looking for:

  • Characterization of natural product extracts, including semi-purified or otherwise
  • Bioprospecting studies for chemical entities, genes, micro-organisms and macro-organisms
  • Biomarkers and diagnostics
  • Projects solely focused on network building, capacity building and infrastructure projects for drug discovery without specific target molecules
  • Total synthesis or developing synthetic methods towards accessing natural or designed molecules of biological significance

Duration of Award: The maximum duration of the award to grantees will be two years, subject to satisfactory attainment of agreed-upon milestones.

Size of Award:  Each project will be supported up to a maximum of US $100,000 for 2 years. There will be an opportunity for follow-on funding to successful projects of up to US $ 50,000 for supplies and equipment based on the gains made by the projects. We expect to fund ~8 projects.

This RFP will make use of a three-step application process:

Step 1:  Submission of initial application to the African Academy of Sciences through our grants management system.  Applicant organizations submitting the application MUST fully meet the eligibility criteria. Please read the full guidelines to make certain that your application responds to the call.

The program partners will evaluate the initial applications and the applicants eligible for full proposal submission will be informed no later than 30th October 2020.

Note: Eligible candidates will be invited to participate in the Grand Challenges Annual meeting currently envisioned to happen in October 2020.

Step 2:  Successful applicants will be required to submit a full, written proposal (exact date will be communicated) but before 12th November 2020. Additional guidance to successful applicants will be provided after the initial application selection process.

Step 3: Applicants will present their final proposal at a face to face meeting, in early December 2020. 

Applicants will be informed of the outcome no later than 8th January 2021.


Application Schedule

2nd Drug Discovery Call Timelines

Key dates and deadlines



29th May, 2020

Initial call for applicatons open


7th July, 2020

Initial call for applicatons close


July August September 2020

Triage moderation and validation on GMS


Week of 26-29 October 2020

Invitation to present full proposal for selected candidates

This date or the process of doing this may change

12th November 2020

Application deadline for full proposal

This date may change

Week of 14-17 December 2020

Final Candidates presenting proposals  

Virtual or Face to Face meeting

African Academy of Sciences (AAS)

The African Academy of Sciences will coordinate the triage of proposals, grant making, grant management and running of a cohesive cohort that work together to strengthen existing networks where each member plays a role in each other’s success. AAS will also spearhead industry and any external connections for the networks. Where possible AAS will assist with the formation of a new nexus for drug discovery on the continent. 

Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D)

The Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) at the University of Cape Town will be a key partner in this collaboration. They will offer their experience in conducting drug discovery projects on the continent to make this program a success. H3D will be involved in the identification of innovative ideas and promote excellence in the program. They will also offer their experiences for local capacity building in this area. Where possible they will offer access to their facilities for collaborations depending on their capacity in order to address gaps identified at the African partner institution. H3D will specifically participate in this program by providing opportunities to African partners:

  1. to be immersed within H3D’s ongoing malaria and TB drug discovery projects as full project members working from their home institutions
  2. to use H3D infrastructure, technology platforms and expertise to fill gaps in their own environment  
  3. to generate key data from existing screening assays to support the projects at the African partner institution as well as to provide project management support and guidance with data interpretation
  4.  to tap into existing H3D/pharmaceutical industry scientist exchange programs for capacity building in order to gain additional skills

Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV)

Medicines for Malaria Venture will provide expertise for the discovery, development, and delivery of effective new interventions targeted in this call. The team will ensure that the call focusses on innovative projects that have a potential to contribute to the global health drug discovery pipelines and advice on the risks and opportunities of each project.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds and supports drug discovery activities across multiple global health diseases with a strategic focus on TB and Malaria. This is accomplished through building networks of grantees and partners globally. BMGF will bring its resources and experience to support the drug researchers funded by this program and create opportunities to access deep expertise in drug discovery and the biology of the target diseases. BMGF seeks to expand the global drug discovery capability, including in disease endemic countries, which can contribute to its programs to control and eliminate diseases of poverty.

Each partner will leverage their networks in drug discovery and related programs to contribute positively to the challenges that will be offered from the program.

Awardee collaborators:

While these grants will be awarded to individual applicants and administered by their home institution, they are also designed to be collaborative as will be emphasized during the cohort workshops. Funded projects will be required to demonstrate evidence of working in collaborations with other grantees, networks and institutions in Africa with drug discovery capacities, and to have mentors and/or collaborating institutions based in Africa or in the global South and North. Representatives from the funding and sponsoring organizations (AAS, BMGF, MMV, H3D) can also serve as mentors, collaborators, consultants (subject to conflict of interest issues), emphasising the importance of co-ownership in global collaborative efforts.

Innovators should not shy away from contacting any of the sponsoring organizations seeking collaborations with their experts in this competitive grant.

This opportunity should create a network of drug discovery (and development) scientists that will initiate, develop, share, evaluate and disseminate best approaches and practices within the research community in Africa. To prevent undue redundancies and to share learning and challenges and best practices, AAS and partners will organize regular gatherings/cohort face-to-face meetings for grantees, or via teleconference calls to discuss developments, progress and insights gained throughout the project period, monitoring and evaluation framework and indicators to be developed jointly between funders/sponsors and grantees.