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African innovators discovering new drugs for diseases endemic to Africa

African innovators discovering new drugs for diseases endemic to Africa

“Diseases considered to be of the poor face a market bias that has hampered the discovery of drugs to treat them. The African Academy of Sciences (The AAS), and her partners; the University of Cape Town Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D); Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are transforming the treatment landscape on the continent to ensure more Africans have improved access to effective and cheaper drugs and can lead healthier and happier lives,” says Grand Challenges Africa (GC Africa) Programme Manager Dr Moses Alobo.

Africa represents 17% of the world’s population but bears a disproportionate 25% of the global disease burden. Sub-Saharan Africa carries 90% of the global cases of malaria. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) data revealed that the 2.5M who fell ill with TB in Africa represented a quarter of new TB cases in the world. WHO also reports more than 90% of new cases of leishmaniasis - a devastating parasitic disease which can lead to disfiguration of the spleen and liver or death in its most severe forms - occurred in 7 countries, five of which were African: Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.


GC Africa, through the partnership with H3D, MMV and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is providing grants totaling $1M to innovative research projects advancing the discovery of new drugs to prevent, treat, and cure diseases endemic to Africa

The eight innovators, who are the inaugural awardees of the GC Africa drug discovery scheme, were selected from 53 applicants from 13 African countries. GC Africa is implemented through The AAS and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) funding, agenda-setting and programme management platform, and the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA).

The innovators, half of whom are women, will each receive up to $100,000 for a period of two years to expand their institutions' drug discovery research capacity. The funding will also enable the researchers to identify new chemical entities with potential for drug development in malaria, tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, commonly known as sleeping sickness) and enteroaggregative Escherichia coli, a bacteria associated with chronic and acute diarrhoea and childhood stunting.

“People continue to die from neglected tropical diseases, such as malaria, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness. The current drugs do not always effectively cure the parasites responsible for these diseases while the disease burden is increasing due to drug resistance. We urgently need new drugs that are well tolerated, effective and cost effective, which is why I am pleased to receive this Grand Challenges Africa funding as it will allow me to contribute to continental efforts to find better treatments,” says Fabrice Fekam Boyom, Professor of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Yaoundé 1 in Cameroon, Central Africa.

 “Thanks to The AAS funding through the Grand Challenges Africa programme, we will work to contribute to developing shorter treatment regimens for tuberculosis to combat the problem of patients not adhering to treatment leading to a relapse, which has been the cause of multidrug- resistant TB,” adds Adrienne Lesley Elkins, a Zimbabwe-born Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Department of Science & Technology (DST)/National Research Foundation (NRF) South African Research Chair (SARChI) at Rhodes University in South Africa, Southern Africa.

Grand Challenges Africa drug discovery innovators,

 Adrienne Lesley Elkins, Zimbabwean, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and DST/NRF South African Research Chair (SARChI), Rhodes University (South Africa)
The aim of the research is to identify selective modulators of the TB bacteria,
Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), to support development of newer, more effective therapies.

Dinkorma Ouologuem, Malian, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sciences, Techniques and Technologies of Bamako, Mali
The project aims to develop an assay/test to measure the activity of antimalarial drugs on the transmission of the malaria parasite. This innovative work is anticipated to be a useful addition to the current tools for drug discovery and to support the malaria eradication agenda.

 Fabrice Fekam Boyom, Cameroonian, Professor of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Yaoundé 1, Cameroon
This project builds on intra-African and international (pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions) collaborations to identify medicinal chemistry starting points from the screening of target-based chemical libraries against the causative agents of malaria, leishmaniasis and Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness.

Iruka N Okeke, Nigerian, Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Microbiology, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Iruka N Okeke’s lab studies enteroaggregative Escherichia coli (EAEC) colonisation and is academic home to pharmaceutical chemistry doctoral student David A. Kwasi.  With chemists Chinedum P. Babalola, Uzochukwu Ikemefuna and OlujIde Olubiyi, Iruka and David aim to discover molecular scaffolds that could be forerunners of (EAEC) therapeutics.

Özlem Tastan Bishop, South African, Director of Research Unit in Bioinformatics (RUBi) and Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rhodes University, South Africa
This research proposes to apply new protocols that have been developed at RUBi combined with traditional computational drug discovery approaches to further improve our understanding of rational drug discovery in the context of tuberculosis and malaria. Additionally, where applicable, it aims to identify novel hits from African natural products against these diseases as screening of them may lead to the development of novel pharmaceutics in Africa.

Richard Amewu, Ghanaian, Senior Lecturer, Chemistry Department, University of Ghana.
The emergence of drug resistance has rendered most clinically used drugs ineffective. There is therefore the need to discover new, well tolerated or safe, effective and novel chemo types with new modes of action. This project seeks to continue medicinal chemistry efforts on a chemical class identified from the MMV Pathogen box to develop an early lead with in vivo antitubercular/antimalarial activity as a proof-of-concept.

Edwin Murungi, Kenyan, Senior Lecturer, Medical Biochemistry Department, Kisii University.
There is a compelling need for the development of new drugs for trematode infections since current drugs are often ineffective and/or have widespread resistance. Drug repurposing which is advantageous in fast-tracking compounds into clinical studies is a promising drug discovery approach. Edwin’s research involves the application of computational biology in the drug repurposing of kinase inhibitors as new therapies for trematode infections.

Heinrich Hoppe, South African, Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Microbiology Department Rhodes University, South Africa. The propensity of malaria parasites to develop resistance motivates the ongoing discovery and development of antimalarials with new modes of action. Heinrich Hoppe’s research focuses on employing novel bioassays to find inhibitors of Arf1, a GTPase that regulates protein secretion, in order to validate it as an antimalarial drug target.

 From left: Heinrich Hoppe , Dinkorma Ouologuem, Adrienne Edkins, Iruka Okeke, Henry Akwaffo (Representing Richard Amewu), Ozlem Tastan Bishop, Fabrice Boyom, Edwin Murungi.

Further information

Watch Fabrice Boyom speak about his work

See Photos from the Inception meeting:

Watch the Video for the Grantee Inception Meeting