Local drug research is making waves

Professor Kelly Chibale. (Supplied)

Professor Kelly Chibale. (Supplied)

The traditional model for the development of new drugs by big pharmaceutical companies is being challenged successfully by the University of Cape Town’s Professor Kelly Chibale.

In addition to heading up the university’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D), he has also held the SARChI Drug Discovery Research Chair since 2008.

Chibale says: “We have focused our efforts on pioneering and developing new models of drug discovery for Africa in a manner that is less expensive than models traditionally used by the large pharmaceutical companies. One of the keys to this success has been establishing successful partnerships with international donors who recognise this potential and without whose support we would not be able to accomplish our aims.”


These international networks and the success of his work has also led to partnerships with some large pharmaceutical companies, which have passed on projects to be researched and developed in South Africa by H3-D.

The scale of the research is impressive; H3-D is one of the largest developers (outside of big pharmaceutical companies) that is involved in discovering tuberculosis drugs, and a malaria drug discovered and developed by the centre has entered clinical trials this year.

According to Chibale, this is crucial to South Africa’s ability to establish world-class facilities and researchers. Such is the growth of his research centre that he expects to double the staff complement to 50 people by next year.

“This is an important move towards creating sustainable employment in this niche sector, which is also bolstered by post-graduates enrolled under the Research Chair. The international collaborations are key to producing a new generation of scientists who are not only experienced in this field, but who also gain important exposure to international experts and researchers,” says Chibale.

This supplement has been paid for by Department of Science and Technology and its contents signed off by the DST and the National Research Foundation.