Antibiotics: the shift from "commercial product" to "emergency treatment"

Cape Town | In a new collaborative intervention investing ZAR 2 million per annum over the next three years, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), has committed to fund and conduct responsive medical research and development into novel antibiotics and improved antibiotic treatments to ensure that solutions are taken to scale.  The health systems in Africa are under enormous pressures, amongst others, from infectious diseases and the strain is exacerbated by the increase in antimicrobial resistance (AMR).    

“Our accelerated resolve to antimicrobial resistance, as medical researchers and innovative thinkers, is to guide our strategies and interventions by the need to positively impact on the lives of people”, says Professor Glenda Gray, President & CEO of the SAMRC. “The status quo of this local and global challenge requires a collective sense of urgency to invigorate public-private partnerships as a plan to prevent us from losing control over the situation”, Gray concludes. 

While data suggests that AMR is a major problem, it is clear that there are competing priorities that requires investment into research and development to find solutions that are sustainable, impact the lives of people and that can be cost effectively taken to scale especially for governments managing health care systems that are reliant on public funds. 

This is the underlying reason for the SAMRC having entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), an organisation with a mission to develop safe, effective and affordable new treatments for people suffering from neglected diseases and to ensure equitable access to such treatments.  The Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP) established as a research and development initiative within DNDi and will fuel the outcomes of the Understanding.  The SAMRC will, under the principles of the Understanding, translate the following key objectives into a trajectory of progress: identify key medical priorities for AMR in South Africa and throughout Africa; conduct an analysis of the current research and development pipeline for antibiotics in South Africa and Africa, analyzing the gaps against regional priority needs, and identifying priority projects that will require collaboration; and leverage additional funding from local and international sources.

A series of topics will inform the response to AMR and attention must be paid to prioritizing research and development into the ESKAPE pathogens (E.coli, S. aureus, K. pneumoniae, A. baumannii, P. aeruginosa, and E. cloacae) that case hospital infections, as well as sexually transmitted infections, including N. gonorrhea and resistant enteric infections (salmonellae and shigellae), along with the emerging threat from Candida auris.

Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP): 

GARDP was established in May 2016 as a not-for-profit research and development initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi). Funding will support GARDP’s four programme areas:

  • Sexually-transmitted infections: GARDP has developed a roadmap to treat STIs, starting with a focus on gonorrhoea.  In July 2017, in its first partnership with a company, GARDP announced its plans to co-develop zoliflodacin, one of the only drugs in the pipeline to treat drug resistant gonorrhoea, in a global Phase III clinical trial. Latest WHO data shows that more than 60% of countries surveyed across the world have reported resistance to last-resort gonorrhoea treatment.
  • Antimicrobial Memory Recovery: This programme which will launch on 5th September has engaged more than 100 world-class experts in its bid to recoup essential knowledge and lost memory of abandoned antibiotic development projects to help identify new drug opportunities. It incorporates a digital hub, known as REVIVE, which provides a space for experts and new researchers to network and learn.
  • Neonatal sepsis: An estimated 214,000 neonatal sepsis deaths each year are believed to result from drug-resistant infections. Later in 2017, GARDP will initiate work to deliver new treatment regimens for babies with neonatal sepsis, establish a global network of specialist centres and provide an evidence base for the use of antibiotics in neonatal infectious diseases.
  • Paediatric Antibiotic Platform: Currently in development, this programme aims to optimize current treatments and accelerate the development of new antibiotics specifically adapted for children, through an R&D programme which expects to include a network of clinical trials. 

The scope of
South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC):
SAMRC’s research includes basic laboratory investigations, clinical research and public health studies. Research at the SAMRC focuses on the following top 10 causes of death in South Africa:

  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Lower respiratory infection
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Diarrhoeal diseases
  • Interpersonal violence
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Road injuries

To assist with delivering on this vital mandate, the organisation is led by the National Department of Health, and works with other key stakeholders such as the Department of Science and Technology, South African and international science councils, medical schools, universities, research institutions and international collaborators.

Hermann Gröhe, Federal Minister of Health, Germany, Dr Niresh Bhagwandin, South African Medical Research Council,
Dr. Georg Schutte, Permanent State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education and Science, Germany, Peter Beyer, WHO and Manica Balasegaram, GARDP

Release date: 
Monday, September 4, 2017 - 08:14
Dr Alfred Thutloa
Contact: Dr Alfred Thutloa

Head of Corporate Communications
Tel: + 27 21 938 0274