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Africa needs a strong cohort of drug discovery scientists to respond to the therapeutic needs of the continent 


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Africa needs a strong cohort of drug discovery scientists to respond to the therapeutic needs of the continent 

The common practice of using commercial market demand to drive the discovery of new medicines has over the years reduced drug discovery work on diseases that affect Africa to a trickle. The focus on this area from research teams in Africa is minimal. The continent, therefore, needs multidisciplinary teams to be excellent in their work by building world class capabilities that can deliver much needed new medicines for local diseases.  

In response, the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in partnership with the University of Cape Town (UCT) Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D), Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, (BMGF) have committed funding and most importantly technical support to strengthen drug discovery capabilities and create a virtual drug discovery network in Africa.

The call for proposals will support a second cohort of Drug Discovery proposals rolled out within this partnership. 

The Drug Discovery partnership specifically seeks to provide support to develop and strengthen infrastructure, drug discovery capacity and human resources. The goal being to unlock additional funding and industry partnerships for the design and creation of new therapies and products for diseases prevalent in Africa. Additionally, having local scientists who understand the scope and who work with patients daily, will offer unquantifiable benefits to the continent.

Funding of up to USD $100,000 will be given to each successful researcher in Africa to implement a two-year inter-disciplinary project whose objectives include identifying:

  • New chemical entities with potential for drug development in diseases of local relevance for Africa, including validating hits, and conducting hit to lead and lead optimization campaigns.  
  • Strategies and policies that promote the sustainability of drug discovery programs on the continent. 
  • Centres and building research capacity for drug discovery within qualifying institutions.
  • Strengthening the drug discovery network by building interlinkages between the different groups including those identified as having basic and translational science capacities.

Additional information:

  • The second Drug Discovery will be opened for a period of six weeks from 29 May 2020 and close on 07 July 2020 at 17:00hrs East Africa Time (EAT).  
  • Grantees who were beneficiaries of the first cohort are ineligible to apply for this round but will have an opportunity to apply for additional support in future.
  • Applications will be assessed and selected based on scientific merit and their potential to advance the drug discovery process. Selected applicants will also benefit from a network of drug discovery scientists in Africa and across the globe, linking them to peers, mentors and providing them with access to resources and technologies. 
  • There will be a strong preference for letters of intent focusing on Malaria or Tuberculosis (TB) but good ideas in Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and antibiotic-resistant microbes within the broader context of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) will be considered.
  • There will be an opportunity for follow-on funding to successful projects of up to USD $ 50,000 for supplies and equipment based on the gains made by the projects.
  • All complete applications should be channeled through the Ishango Grants Management System.

Eligibility requirements:

To be eligible, applicants must: 

  • Have a creative idea for a drug discovery project based on one or more of the following: 
  • biological targets
  • biological screens or assays
  • small molecule starting points (hits or leads including purified and characterized natural products)
  • in-vitro and in vivo DMPK | ADME assays and related technologies
  • Work in drug discovery on the African continent
  • Be willing, interested, and able to collaborate with experts across the continent to share and develop best practices and approaches for drug discovery
  • Not have received funding from this scheme before. Note that current grantees who are part of the first Drug Discovery cohort are not eligible to apply. 

For more information on this call visit the AAS funding webpage here

Watch one of our current drug discovery grantees speak here

Note to the editor
The African Academy of Sciences 
The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) is a non-aligned, non-political, not-for-profit pan African organisation whose vision is to see transformed lives on the African continent through science. Our tripartite mandate is recognising excellence through the AAS’ highly prestigious fellowship and award schemes, providing advisory and think tank functions for shaping Africa’s Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) strategies and policies and implementing key STI programmes addressing Africa’s developmental challenges. The Academy’s five strategic focus areas include: Environment and climate change; health and wellbeing; natural sciences; policy and governance; and social sciences and humanities. 
Join us on and Twitter @AASciences and learn more by visiting 
Grand Challenges Africa  

The Grand Challenges family of initiatives seeks to engage innovators from around the world to solve science, technology and innovation, health and developmental challenges. Grand Challenges initiatives are united by their focus on fostering innovation, directing research to where it will have the most impact, and serving those most in need. The Grand Challenges Africa (GC Africa) scheme is part of the family and seeks to promote Africa-led scientific innovations to help countries better achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by awarding seed and full grants to the continent’s most impressive solutions. The AAS through its agenda setting, funding and programme implementation platform, the Alliance for Accelerating Science in Africa (AESA) implements GC Africa in partnership with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Visit the Grand Challenges Africa webpage for more information.  

Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) 
The Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) at the University of Cape Town will be a key partner in this collaboration. They will offer their experience in conducting drug discovery projects on the continent to make this program a success. H3D will be involved in the identification of innovative ideas and promote excellence in the program. They will also offer their experiences for local capacity building in this area. Where possible they will offer access to their facilities for collaborations depending on their capacity in order to address gaps identified at the African partner institution. H3D will specifically participate in this program by providing opportunities to African partners: 
1. to be immersed within H3D’s ongoing malaria and TB drug discovery projects as full project members working from their home institutions
2. to use H3D infrastructure, technology platforms and expertise to fill gaps in their own environment  
3. to generate key data from existing screening assays to support the projects at the African partner institution as well as to provide project management support and guidance with data interpretation
4. to tap into existing H3D/pharmaceutical industry scientist exchange programs for capacity building in order to gain additional skills 

Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) 
Medicines for Malaria Venture will provide expertise for the discovery, development, and delivery of effective new interventions targeted in this call. The team will ensure that the call focusses on innovative projects that have a potential to contribute to the global health drug discovery pipelines and advice on the risks and opportunities of each project.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Dr Susan Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H Gates, Sr, under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet.

Applicants must email
Media to contact Davies Mbela | Communications Assistant I African Academy of Sciences | Tel: +254 20 806 0674