Funding to boost TB research and accelerate capacity development at the University of Limpopo
Cape Town | Through its Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) funded Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP) programme, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has awarded the University of Limpopo (UL) a grant to boost local tuberculosis (TB) research while also accelerating capacity development at the University.
UL are the latest beneficiaries of the SHIP programme, a partnership between the SAMRC and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) that funds and manages innovative projects focused on the development of new drugs, treatments, vaccines, medical devices and prevention strategies. The programme has also developed initiatives to intensify transformation and capacity development in research and innovation in the country and has developed a strategy to increase its support for historically disadvantaged institutions (HDIs).
Valued at approximately R3m over a period of three years, the grant will support a project titled “TB Drug Discovery Hit to Lead Optimization” which aims to contribute to finding solutions to the TB epidemic through cutting-edge research. The project is led by UL’s Professor Winston Nxumalo as the Principal Investigator (PI) and supported by the University of Cape Town (UCT)’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D), led by Prof Kelly Chibale – this is in line with SHIP’s capacity-building agenda by supporting partnerships between historically disadvantaged individuals and established researchers and institutions (“twinning”).
The project will extend the scope of ongoing research on synthesizing novel heterocyclic compounds that are being tested for activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the causative agent of TB. Active compounds have been identified as starting points and research is ongoing to chemically modify them in order to generate derivatives with a potentially improved activity profile toward a hit-to-lead optimization campaign.
Critically, during the three years, the partnership will enable postgraduate students from the UL to design and synthesize compounds and gain access to the expertise and infrastructure at H3D in order to evaluate the biological activity of the compounds. H3D’s medicinal chemists will also provide input on the design of the compounds. In order to accelerate capacity development at the University of Limpopo, the students will also be supported to spend time at H3D receiving training and mentoring as part of this award.
Speaking of the new award, Prof Nxumalo who, along with the Medicinal Chemistry Research Group at the University of Limpopo, has been active in the synthesis of compounds active against Mtb, said “this grant and partnership will strengthen our research activities and allow us to attract and retain postgraduate students (1 PhD and 2 MSc) that will be trained in drug-discovery projects. Our students will get exposure to cutting-edge research facilities and practices, enabling them to become well trained researchers who will contribute to solving South Africa’s health challenges. We are very grateful to the SAMRC and H3D for the faith that they have shown in our group, and we look forward to a healthy working relationship”.
Prof Chibale, a close associate of the SAMRC and director of its extramural research unit, the Drug Discovery and Development Research Unit, said “H3D is committed to transformation and capacity development at HDIs in South Africa as part of our HDI drug discovery initiative, which we first initiated in 2018 with support from the SAMRC as a pilot with Walter Sisulu University. We have a deliberate and intentional strategy to include HDI’s in our collaboration grants. As it happens UL is also already a research partner on a malaria project funded by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH). We are excited and grateful to now be partnering with them on a TB project.”
The NRF A-rated Chibale is no stranger to the beneficiary list of SAMRC-led funding initiatives – and this award builds on the success of similar SHIP-funded projects in collaboration with his H3D team at UCT.
SAMRC President and CEO, Prof Glenda Gray said they are excited about this collaboration, adding that we still need effective TB drugs that have minimal side-effects and do not induce resistance. “TB continues to be a scourge in our country and drug discovery can play a vital role for developing new drugs that can accelerate cure.”
NOTE TO THE EDITOR:
About the “TB Drug Discovery Hit to Lead Optimization” Project:
The project is a collaboration between the University of Limpopo and the University of Cape Town’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D). The project will extend the scope of ongoing research of synthesizing novel heterocyclic compounds that are being tested for activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the causative agent of tuberculosis (TB). These active compounds have now been identified as starting points and research is ongoing to chemically modify them in order to generate derivatives with a potentially improved activity and safety profile to identify quality leads suitable for optimization and selection as potential agents for the treatment of both drug sensitive and resistant TB.
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