African scientists will soon begin training at Emory University as part of a unique partnership between Emory and the Republic of South Africa. The South Africa Drug Discovery Training Program will address the rising dangers of diseases that unduly affect developing countries. By training African scientists in drug discovery, the partnership is designed to give South Africans not only a voice but also a choice in how best to combat their disease epidemics.
"As part of this collaboration, the scientists will work with academic researchers in departments and schools throughout the Emory campus, including chemistry, pharmacology and other basic biomedical science departments," says Dennis Liotta, PhD, professor of chemistry. "The scientists will gain hands-on experience in translating research into healthcare solutions and will then return to their home countries to receive post-training placement in industrial or academic positions."
The visiting scholars will initially come from South Africa, but scientists from all over sub-Saharan Africa will soon take part in the training.
"To effectively battle the neglected infectious and immunologic diseases of poverty, the transfer of money and technology is not enough--it is expertise in the discovery and development of new medicines that is the intrinsic requirement," Dr. Liotta says. He and his colleagues have produced several new drugs, including crucial anti-HIV drugs used in the majority of AIDS cocktails today.
"By helping to shift early stage drug discovery to South Africa, this initiative will foster a viable research infrastructure that is capable of responding to global healthcare needs. The fact that several small pharmaceutical companies are beginning to spring up in Africa makes this an ideal time to develop a drug discovery training program," says Dr. Liotta.
Dr. Liotta and his colleagues recently formed iThemba, a start-up biotech company based in South Africa. By developing scientific, economic and educational alliances with Africa's scientists, industry and universities, iThemba will focus on developing affordable drugs to fight the diseases of poverty.
"We believe that we can develop affordable, effective drugs using a combination of relatively low operating costs and socially conscious investments. This is crucial because, for the most part, there is little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to invest in new medicines to treat diseases that have relatively small markets," Dr. Liotta says.
According to Dr. Liotta, HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria are among the diseases most affecting Africa's impoverished populations.
"One of the issues with TB, for example, is that we know how to control the disease," says Liotta. "We have drugs that are 50 plus years old, and they work, but the problem is that patients have to take them for six to nine months. With such a prolonged dosing period, it is very difficult for people to remain compliant."
Dr. Liotta and his collaborators are hoping to develop anti-tuberculosis drugs that will require only two-week regimens.
Support for the South Africa Drug Discovery Training Program will come from the South African government and the Emory Global Health Institute, which was established to support Emory faculty, students and alumni in their work to find solutions to critical global health problems.