Initiative boosts efforts to produce malaria, TB drugs in Africa by $7m

Saturday March 16 2024

The development of drugs to cure malaria has been slow and there has been little progress in development of drug resistant Tuberculosis. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


A group of African scientists have stepped up efforts to find cure for Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria — two devastating diseases that disproportionately impact the African continent.

The team spread across the continent received a joint investment of $7.2 million from a medical research charity to develop new drugs for the two deadly diseases.

The initiative, known as Grand Challenges Africa Drug Discovery Accelerator Programme (GC ADDA), backed by LifeArc and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to address a need for innovative tools to combat malaria and TB, which collectively claim nearly one million lives in Africa annually. Approximately 600,000 and 400 deaths are attributed to malaria TB respectively, according to the World Health Organisation.

“A unique environment and opportunity has been created where world-class scientists from disease endemic countries can collaborate to discover new drugs to address unmet patient needs on their doorstep,” said Dr James Duffy, senior director of drug discovery at MMV.

Read: Funding gaps frustrate TB testing for those with HIV

The development of drugs to cure malaria has been slow and there has been little progress in development of drug resistant TB. This initiative is seen as crucial in the fight against drug-resistant strains of the two diseases.


Reduction in the effectiveness of current treatments because of the evolution and propagation of drug resistance intensifies the need to pinpoint new drugs.

GC ADDA has two main objectives — supporting promising drug discovery projects in Africa and establishing a project-driven virtual African drug discovery network with a global health focus.

The programme aims to foster strategic and scientific leadership by leveraging partnerships.

GC ADDA will utilise $4.7 million of the funding to support two teams, led by scientists from the Universities of Ghana and Pretoria and Stellenbosch University.

Yaounde declaration

Meanwhile, African Ministers of Health and senior government officials met in Yaounde, Cameroon, and pledged “unwavering commitment” to reduce mortality of the disease that that kills 580,000 people on the continent annually.

The gathering that culminated in the signing of the “Yaounde Declaration” brought together Ministers of Health, global malaria partners, funding agencies, scientists, civil society organizations and other principal malaria stakeholders.

Read: Bill Gates gives $40m for research, mRNA vaccines

The ministers committed to increase funding and bolster investment in critical infrastructure, expand personnel technological capacities and ensure effective programmes implementation. They further pledged to enhance multi-sectoral collaboration; and to build strategic partnerships for funding, research and innovation.

“This declaration reflects our shared commitment as nations and partners to protect our people from the devastating consequences of malaria,” said Dr Manaouda Malachie, Cameroon Minister of Public Health. “We will work together to ensure that this commitment is translated into action and impact,” he said further.

The funding will contribute to ongoing efforts by African scientists, expanding capabilities on the continent and building on contributions from the Holistic Drug Discovery and Development Centre at the University of Cape Town. In the battle against multi-drug resistant TB, Prof Erick Strauss from the Department of Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University will lead the efforts in collaboration with various teams that will include Dr Gabriel Mashabela from the South African Medical Research Centre for TB Research, also based at SU.

The network of scientists working on malaria also includes experts from Cameroon, South Africa, and Mali, collaborating with global entities such as the University of Dundee, Lgenia (USA), Malaria Drug Accelerator, and the Medicines for Malaria Venture.

I. Additionally, teams under the guidance of Prof. Adrienne Edkins at Rhodes University, Prof Rajshekar Kapoormath at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, along with Dr Elizabeth Kigondu and Dr Edwin Murungi at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, will be involved in the effort.

Both malaria and TB projects will receive support from the Pan Africa DMPK (Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics) Centre of Excellence, led by Professor Collen Masimirembwa in Zimbabwe.

According to Prof Strauss, the aim is to pursue new, previously unexplored avenues for discovering effective treatments against TB.

These efforts will complement the many existing drug development efforts led by other international consortia, such as the Tuberculosis Drug Discovery Accelerator (TBDA).

Dr Clif Barry, chief of the Tuberculosis Research Section at the National Institutes of Health in the United States, says TB and especially multidrug-resistant TB, continue to be a significant health burden in African countries: “It is only fitting that an investment of this scale should be made to support scientists on the continent who are working to develop new antituberculosis treatments.”

The collaboration reflects a longstanding history of collaboration through the African Research University Alliance (ARUA). The initiative is seen as a commendable effort to address the pressing health challenges faced by the African continent.

Prof Birkholtz says the need for antimalarial drugs in Africa is critical since malaria cases are increasing, “We have to propel existing discoveries forward by building on our existing capacity and expertise.”

Additional reporting by Ndi Eugene Ndi