LifeArc and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are jointly investing £6 million ($7.2m) in the Grand Challenges African Drug Discovery Accelerator (GC ADDA) programme, a collaboration that will support 5 African drug discovery projects over 3 to 5 years.

Launched in 2018, the Grand Challenges Africa Drug Discovery programme was developed to identify and support exciting new drug discovery projects in Africa, strengthen the continent’s drug discovery capabilities and create a project-driven virtual African drug discovery network. Funding from Grand Challenges Africa Drug Discovery has already supported 2 cohorts of 8 projects focusing on tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.

In this second phase, LifeArc and the Foundation will each invest £3 million to support the next wave of pan-African consortium projects, building on the capabilities strengthened in phase one.

Funded projects include research into new treatment approaches for malaria – a disease which continues to disproportionately impact Africa, responsible for more than 500,000 deaths in the region (1) – and a new approach to treating tuberculosis (TB), which is now the most lethal infectious disease globally. All projects are underpinned by a commitment to build and retain drug discovery capacity and world-class scientists within Africa.

Dr Mike Strange, Head of Global Health, commented: “Fostering innovation in infectious diseases in Africa is an important element of our Global Health strategy at LifeArc. Co-funding this programme with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the ideal opportunity to support local scientific communities to focus on the areas they know, from experience, are the most urgent and unmet needs. This programme, dedicated to promoting Africa-led scientific innovations, also provides an opportunity to support and strengthen Africa’s translational research capabilities well into the future.”

Dr Susan Winks, H3D Foundation, said: “This investment from LifeArc and BMGF represents an inflection point for the nascent drug discovery research community in Africa. Following the example set by the H3D Centre, University of Cape Town, we are ready to accelerate our efforts across the continent and establish a strong innovation ecosystem, with regional hubs of drug discovery excellence.”

Professor Erick Strauss, Stellenbosch University in South Africa, who is leading a the project on exploring a new approach to finding treatments for TB, said: “This is a game changer for antimicrobial drug discovery in Africa. It allows participating researchers to focus their attention on a single problem, and to grow their skills and global research footprint in this field. It also empowers the collaboration of multiple groups from different countries on the continent. This will fast-track the establishment of new African centres of excellence in drug discovery. We are excited about the prospects of this funding unlocking new and innovative solutions for alleviating the burden of tuberculosis and malaria in Africa.”

Dr Richard Amewu, University of Ghana, who will lead the discovery of new antimalarial treatments, said: “This funding is building the critical infrastructure and human capacity for drug discovery research in Ghana and builds directly on the current malaria project, supporting the development of a drug discovery hub in Ghana. Africa is disproportionally affected by most diseases, including malaria, and investments like this enable us to contribute to the global efforts in addressing the health needs of Africans. I hope this project will deliver an early lead for progression in drug discovery while building capacity that can be transferred to other diseases and support drug discovery research in sub-Saharan Africa. It also enables scientists across the continent to join forces, integrating expertise and pooling resources towards finding innovative solutions to treat diseases that are predominant in Africa.” Prof Lyn-Marie Birkholtz, University of Pretoria in South Africa, who is co-leading the malaria project, states that this project is critical to contribute to malaria elimination on the continent.

The 5 drug discovery projects in the Grand Challenges Africa Drug Discovery Accelerator programme:

  • Supporting the Grand Challenges African Drug Discovery Accelerator (GC ADDA) – led by the H3D Foundation – Established to position Africa as a global player in innovative pharmaceutical R&D by strengthening infrastructure and the skills of scientists in Africa, the H3D Foundation and H3D Centre, University of Cape Town, have been the key strategic and technical partner for the Grand Challenges Africa Drug Discovery projects since inception. H3D Foundation will lead the formation of the GC ADDA network, which will work together to attract increased investment and strengthen the research infrastructure. The network will provide a framework for greater collaboration, shared training initiatives, and increased community engagement and public outreach. The other four projects will also receive technical support and training from the H3D Foundation and H3D Centre.
  • Pursuing targeted protein degradation for antituberculosis drug development – Professor Erick Strauss, Stellenbosch University – Researchers hope to overcome some of the challenges posed by current TB treatment approaches, which use small molecule drugs to inhibit the activity of essential proteins. Instead, they want to use proteolysis targeting chimeras (PROTACs), which degrade proteins, instead of inhibiting them. Recent work that has shown this kind of targeted protein degradation (TPD) could be a viable strategy for developing a new strategy to treat TB.
  • Discovery of novel antimalarial lead candidates in Africa – Dr Richard Amewu, University of Ghana and Prof Lyn-Marié Birkkholtz, University of Pretoria – Current malaria treatments target the parasite, usually during the development phase, but resistance development means they have a finite lifespan. They also do not typically block transmission. Researchers across the continent will focus on developing multistage-targeting drugs that have the added advantage of blocking transmission to support malaria elimination and eradication.
  • Pan Africa DMPK (Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics) Centre of Excellence – Professor Collen Masimirembwa, African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology – A core discipline in drug development, DMPK helps to identify drugs likely to be suitable for further development by considering how they are metabolised and processed by the body. A team at the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology in Zimbabwe aims to establish a Pan Africa DMPK Centre of Excellence by forming a sustainable research network focused on DPMK with increased visibility among African researchers.
  • African-derived Natural Product Box (AdNPB) Dr. Fidele Ntie-Kang, University of Buea – Traditional medicinal practices have a profound influence on the daily lives of people living in Africa and natural products are often regarded as sources of drugs or a source of inspiration for the discovery of new therapies. Researchers at the University of Buea in Cameroon are creating a set of 400 natural products found in Africa for screening against a range of diseases including TB, neglected tropical diseases, viral diseases and malaria

 

References

1. World Health Organization Regional data and trends: World malaria report 2022 https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/WHO-UCN-GMP-2022.08