African researchers on how to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases to receive grants to facilitate their work

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By IRENE MBANGA,NAIROBI,18TH JULY 2018-Researchers in Africa working on identifying  new drug candidates targeting Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) have every reason to smile after at least five Organizations promised to give grants towards the same. Africa has high prevalence of Malaria, Tuberculosis (TB) among other neglected tropical diseases.Every project will receive a sum of $100,000.

This will go along way to help African researchers combat these diseases and come up with possible curative drugs, with the organizations willing to fund   the study for next two years.

These include; The African Academy of Sciences (AAS), University of Cape Town (UCT), Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D), Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This funding is open to all African researchers with convincing proposals for Drug Discovery. The funding also aims at creating a network of drug discovery and groom scientists who will initiate, develop, share, evaluate and disseminate best approaches and practices within the research community in Africa.

This is the third call for proposals administered by the AAS’s Grand Challenges Africa (GC Africa), a scheme implemented through the AAS and the NEPAD Agency’s Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA).

According to Prof Tom Kariuki, the AESA / Director of Programs the partnership will benefit Africa by developing the capacity and augmenting efforts to discover and develop drugs for diseases that are prevalent on the continent.

“Otherwise we are being affected by a market bias that has seen drug discovery efforts on the continent hampered,” Prof Kariuki said.

Prof Kariuki revealed: “Africa represents 17 percent of the world’s population yet it bears a disproportionate of 25 percent to the global disease burden.  Moreover, the sub-Saharan Africa carries 90 percent  of global cases of malaria while 2.5 million who fell ill with TB in Africa in 2016, represented a quarter of new TB cases in the world.”

Prof Kariuki emphasized that drug resistance is also compounding the disease burden requiring for Africa to build capacity and step up drug discovery activities.

He explained the new funding will only be given to projects that will identify new chemical entities with potential for drug development in diseases of local relevance for Africa. It will also be used to expand institutions’ drug discovery research capacity.

For many years African researchers have been struggling to come up with curative drugs for TB, malaria without success. This is mainly because of lack of sponsorship to complete their research work among other essential resources in research.

For example, TNDs affect more than one billion people and cost developing countries billions of dollars in their economies every year. The NTDs mainly affects populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors and domestic animals that are those worst affected.

In May 2013, the 66th World Health Assembly resolved to intensify and integrate measures against NTDs and to plan investments to improve the health and social well-being of affected populations.  World Health Organization (WHO) is working with Member States to ensure the implementation of resolution WHA66.12.

In 2016, the 69th Assembly adopted resolution WHA69.21on addressing the burden of mycetoma, a chronic infection of skin and subcutaneous tissue caused by bacteria or fungi.   The request made byWHO, through the Strategic and Technical Advisory for Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Therefore, with the proposals funding of African researchers coming in handy, it is an opportunity to implement appropriate measures with high coverage to achieve the targets. The WHO Roadmap on neglected tropical diseases  to eliminate many and wipe out at least two by 2020.

Conditions that are favourable for Neglected Tropical Diseases in Mathare slum.-PHOTO/Irene Mbanga

According to Professor Kelly Chibale, Founder and Director of Drug Discovery and Development Centre, H3D at the University of Cape Town, selected applicants would also benefit from a network of drug discovery scientists in Africa and across the globe.

Prof Chibale stated the applicants will be linked to peers, mentors and provided with access to resources and technologies.

“The attractive aspect of this program is that, it focuses on highlighting and investing in those who are present on the continent,” Prof Chibale said.The partners involved are proactively seeking to identify and fund talented African-based scientists to succeed and not to merely survive,” he emphasized.

“Again it 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,” he added.

Dr Timothy Wells,MMV’s Chief Scientific Officer also added that at Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), their focus is to bring forward the next generation of medicines to help defeat malaria.

“Through these grants, MMV together with their partners, they aim to support the next generation of African scientists to get involved in this endeavor for malaria as well as other diseases,” Dr Wells clarifies.

“Medicines for Malaria Venture is proud to support the effort to identify new drug candidates for the big three diseases of malaria, tuberculosis and NTDs via this call for proposals,” Dr Wells said.

Applicants are required to submit a letter of interest by July 18, 2018, which will determine if the AAS and partners will invite them to submit full proposals. The organizers of this call will announce successful applicants in January 2019.


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