J&J joins UCT to tackle the antimicrobial…

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The new Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Satellite Center for Global Health Discovery at the University of Cape Town Holistic Center for Drug Discovery and Development (H3D) is the first of its kind in Africa. Launching on Monday, April 25, the center is intended to advance research and development in South Africa, particularly the early-stage science needed to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for South Africa to build research and development capacity locally, according to Kelly Chibale, founder and director of the H3D Centre. This means going beyond surveillance and sequencing to innovate drug and vaccine discovery.

“It goes without saying that…we develop discovery and development capabilities close to where the patient is; this is essential because we know that there is a relationship between the genetics of a population, the socio-economic environment and the physical environment in which patients live, and effective treatment outcomes,” Chibale said. during launch.

“Making the discovery close to the African patient is really, really critical. And that’s not just what we’re doing here, it’s also providing knowledge that innovative pharmaceutical companies will benefit from in their… global mission to serve patients around the world.

There are a number of J&J Centers for Global Health Discovery around the world, forming a global network of research collaborations between J&J and leading research institutions, according to the launch invitation.

J&J’s partnership with H3D, as with any other satellite center, aims to fill an innovation gap in drug development by bringing in effective world-class institutions and scientific opinion leaders, according to Anil Koul, vice president of global public health discovery research at J&J. This in turn shapes the global public health agenda.

Working with J&J will allow H3D to take new drugs past the candidate stage through to completion and distribution, said Susan Winks, head of research operations and business development at H3D. These partnerships are particularly important in Africa, where resources are often limited.

“[The centre is] important to South Africa for the… reason that the devastation we see in Africa is not the consequence of a single disease. It is a consequence of the combined effect of multiple diseases that affect not only humans, but also cultures and animals that interact with each other and interact with the environment, and collectively produce a spiral of socio-economic decline. economic and environmental,” Chibale said.

Antimicrobial resistance

In 2019, nearly five million people died from drug-resistant infections, according to Marc Mendelson, professor of infectious diseases and head of the division of infectious diseases and HIV medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital. Antimicrobial resistance, in particular antibiotic resistance, affects human health and the ability to provide universal health coverage. There is an urgent need for new antibiotics for certain infections.

“One of the important things is that we fought against tuberculosis [tuberculosis] in South Africa, and with MDR, XDR [multidrug-resistant, extensively drug-resistant] Tuberculosis, also drug resistant HIV, and this then also becomes your nosocomial infections [that are] is increasingly becoming the norm,” explained Glaudina Loots, director of health innovation in the Department of Science and Technology.

The fight against antimicrobial resistance is fundamental to the global health agenda, according to Chibale. The threat is not limited to poor and marginalized populations, but can affect anyone who takes antibiotics.

read in Daily Maverick: “Tackling the ‘silent pandemic’ of antibiotic resistance like the Covid-19 pandemic – but doing better, say global health experts

“As we’ve seen with Covid, anything of global importance requires global efforts, and all stakeholders represented engage and participate in finding solutions,” Chibale said. “So for the academic community…it’s really about getting involved in the whole [antimicrobial resistance] value chain, from fundamental basic science to translation aspects.

Winks described the collaboration between J&J and the H3D Center as a “true partnership” with equality in decision-making and scientific governance. Scientists from both organizations will work together, using shared resources and capabilities to fight antimicrobial resistance.

A key focus is the development of new antibiotics, said Dr. Martin Fitchet, head of global public health at J&J. This would be the “measure of success” of the collaboration.

“Over the next three to six months, we will be focusing on developing new chemical materials, new targets to pursue. We’re going to take a two-pronged approach to this. One is to look at very novel screening techniques…and then focus on a structure-based drug design goal,” said Paul Jackson, scientific director of global public health research and development at J&J.

The knowledge generated at the center will be shared with other groups and laboratories, allowing the entire field of antimicrobial resistance to advance, Jackson explained. Additionally, the center would bring together senior scientists from J&J and less experienced individuals from H3D.

“What we really want to do is help train the next generation of scientists in Africa, and that will allow us to expand the pool of talent working on [antimicrobial resistance] in the region and also to ensure that there is a pool of scientists and that it grows and grows in the future,” he continued. “So in the future when there are new pandemics, we will already have the talent pool in place and that will create more opportunities for scientists in Africa and also more employment opportunities.”

Chibale expressed a desire to see the ecosystem the center is part of expand across the African continent, creating jobs and talent in different regions.

“What I really hope is that this will be a model for us to create the absorptive capacity to attract talent, to nurture that talent… to develop it and return it, so that we can keep the talent on this continent,” he said. “I see this as a mechanism to use science for development to create jobs.” SM/MC

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