By IRENE MBAGA and MARY HEARTY

A sum of $100,000 per project is being offered to researchers in Africa to identify new drug candidates targeting neglected tropical diseases. Africa has high prevalence of Malaria, Tuberculosis (TB) among other Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). To help in African researchers combat these diseases and come up with possible curative drugs, at least five organizations have committed 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 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).

“This partnership will benefit Africa by developing the capacity and augmenting efforts to discover and develop drugs for diseases that are prevalent on the continent and are otherwise being affected by a market bias that has seen drug discovery efforts on the continent hampered,” said Prof Tom Kariuki, the AESA / Director of Programs.

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.

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

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.

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. They 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. The partners involved are proactively seeking to identify and fund talented African-based scientists to succeed and not to merely survive,” said Prof Chibale.

“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 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, 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.

“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,” said Dr Wells, MMV’s Chief Scientific Officer.

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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