Imagine a future where drugs are developed in Africa, for Africans; where medicines are designed with the full consideration of Africa’s genetic diversity.

While basic research into potential therapeutics has certainly bloomed in Africa recently, most of the actual drug development process still happens outside of Africa’s borders, including clinical trials on humans.

Professor Rose Hayeshi of North-West University, a biochemist with expertise in preclinical drug development, says this means important therapeutics are not always tailored for Africa’s genetic diversity. “As low as 2% of global clinical trials are reported to be done in Africa, yet Africa is home to 17% of the global population - a clear underrepresentation.

“The translation of basic research done in most African institutions on plants, for instance, does not always end up being tested in humans,” she says. Prof Hayeshi wants to help close this gap by making sure that what comes out of African research labs is safe and effective to be taken onto human trials.

She envisions a future where safe drug development is a reality within Africa and believes Future Africa at The University of Pretoria is an additional resource towards building the required networks.

For example, she wants to link up with phyto-chemists who study potential therapeutics from plant extracts. “These are some of the people who need assistance to get them through the gap between the lab and human trials.”

“It is important to work with policymakers and regulators, to co-create pathways that enable and support research because without them we could not get novel therapeutics approved and into the market,” says Prof Hayeshi.

Like many of its research fellows, Prof Hayeshi sees the Future Africa platform as an opportunity for African researchers to join hands in solving Africa’s greatest challenges. “We always want to collaborate, but no one has actually made that step to create that space for scientists until now.

“I see Future Africa as a pioneering initiative and a home for all African scientists.”

 

Imagine this headline in future: “First medicine developed for Africa by Africans”. What’s your #ImagineFutureAfrica headline?

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