Funding boost for African academics to fight continent’s diseases

New funding commitment aims to aid drug discovery ‘in Africa by Africans’

July 6, 2018
Mosquito under microscope
Source: Alamy

The African Academy of Sciences has committed to funding scientific research to fight infectious diseases, particularly malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases, found widely across the continent.

The national academy, which is partnering with the University of Cape Town Drug Discovery and Development Centre, Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will provide up to $100,000 (£75,873) per project to researchers in Africa to identify new drug candidates.

Successful projects can later apply for larger grants of $500,000.

Africa represents 17 per cent of the world’s population but bears a disproportionate 25 per cent of the global disease burden, the academy said in a statement. Sub-Saharan Africa has 90 per cent of the global cases of malaria and the 2.5 million who fell ill with tuberculosis in Africa in 2016 represented a quarter of new cases in the world.

Tom Kariuki, AAS director of the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa, said that the scheme would help to end “a market bias” that had seen “drug discovery efforts on the continent hampered”.

“This partnership will benefit Africa by developing the capacity and augmenting efforts to discover and develop drugs for diseases”, he said.  

Kelly Chibale, director of the Drug Discovery and Development Centre at the University of Cape Town, added that the “attractive aspect of this programme is that it focuses on highlighting and investing in those who are present on the continent”.

“The partners involved are proactively seeking to identify and fund talented African-based scientists to succeed and not to merely survive,” Professor Chibale said. “This will result in an effective increase in the numbers of productive and contributing African drug discovery scientists as well as an increase in the quality and impact of drug discovery science generated in Africa by Africans.”

The funding, administered by the AAS’ Grand Challenges Africa, will be given to projects that identify the potential for drug development in diseases of local relevance for Africa and that can expand institutions' drug discovery research capacity. The projects will be required to demonstrate evidence of working in collaboration with other grantees, networks and institutions in Africa.

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