23 Nov 2015 - 16:15

The University of Cape Town's Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) has officially opened its new world-class chemical laboratory, with the aim of boosting efforts to develop life-saving medicines.

"The new medicinal chemistry laboratory is expected to attract significant Foreign Direct Investment as well as world-class partnerships and talent," said Professor Kelly Chibale, the Founder and Director of H3D.

H3D has become internationally recognized for its groundbreaking research into a single-dose cure for malaria.

Since finding a medicine involves the integration of multiple scientific disciplines and dedicated teams with integrated skills, the new lab will be able to use all information and knowledge from various disciplines to design and synthesize molecules that overcome any hurdles to becoming medicines.

The open plan lab has world-class built-in safety features ensuring high safety standards. It is also equipped with state-of-the-art modern instrumentation for varied research activities.

Multinationals and pharmaceutical companies were increasingly looking towards Africa as the next growth engine, said Professor Chibale.

"Internationally, there is a paradigm shift in the way pharmaceutical companies are operating. They are lining up to partner with top-level universities. World-class infrastructure and talent are two key ingredients for attracting pharmaceutical industry partners. In Africa, this is already starting to happen through H3D."

The value of Africa's pharmaceutical market is expected to grow between $40 billion and $65 billion by 2020, after rising by 342.5% in 10 years by 2013, due to Africa's economic growth and expanding middle class.

"The groundbreaking work by UCT's H3D into a single-dose cure for malaria has put the Centre on the global map. H3D is fast becoming a hub for research and development in Africa. It is attracting high-level scientists and partners from around the world who are helping us to train a new generation of African scientists. We see the new medicinal chemistry laboratory as another step in helping H3D to work on finding more effective medicines, particularly for people across Africa," said Professor Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UCT.

Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director General of South Africa's Department of Science and Technology, said he hoped there would be a breakthrough in a single-dose cure for malaria or in other potentially pivotal drug research the centre is involved in.

"In South Africa, we are home to so many people who are looking forward to new kinds of medicines. I do believe we are going to make the breakthrough that will confirm what we've always believed: that from Africa, for Africa, for the rest of the world, we can develop something that is world-class and can benefit our people."

Professor Chibale said a good research infrastructure in South Africa, a supportive research environment within the University of Cape Town, South African government support as well as a network of local and international partnerships, were key ingredients to the success of H3D.

Stakeholders such as the UCT Department of Chemistry, UCT Faculty of Science, UCT Department of Alumni and Development (DAD), Novartis Research Foundation in Switzerland, the Wolfson Foundation in the UK and the Garfield Weston Foundation in the UK have made it possible to have the laboratory infrastructure available.

About the University of Cape Town's H3D

H3D was founded in 2010 at UCT, the oldest university in South Africa and consistently highest-ranked African university. H3D officially opened its doors in April 2011, with the goal of creating the leading drug discovery and development platform in Africa. H3D is Africa's first modern fully integrated drug discovery centre and the only one of its kind on the continent. The vision of H3D is to deliver clinical candidates for communicable and non-communicable diseases where there is an unmet medical need. In 2012 the first compound discovered by H3D in partnership with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) was approved by MMV as a preclinical anti-malarial development candidate and has completed Phase I human trials. Under the directorship of Professor Kelly Chibale, the group has been active in malaria and tuberculosis drug discovery for the last four years and is now expanding into other therapeutic areas such as helminths (parasitic worms), cardiovascular disease and fibrosis. It currently comprises 50 scientific staff members in the areas of medicinal chemistry, biology as well as Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics. H3D has state-of-the-art laboratories and has the necessary infrastructure to conduct integrated drug discovery projects to deliver clinical candidates.