Kelly Chibale: World leader in pharma

24 April 2020 | Story Kim Cloete. Photo Robyn Walker. Read time 7 min.
UCT’s Prof Kelly Chibale has been chosen as one of the world’s top 60 inspirational leaders in the pharmaceutical industry.
UCT’s Prof Kelly Chibale has been chosen as one of the world’s top 60 inspirational leaders in the pharmaceutical industry.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Professor Kelly Chibale, founder and director of Africa’s first integrated drug discovery and development centre, H3D, has been chosen as one of the world’s top 60 inspirational leaders in the pharmaceutical industry.

The United States-based The Medicine Maker’s prestigious 2020 Power List celebrates the most inspirational professionals working in the global pharmaceutical industry. Chibale was selected as one of the top 20 inspirational medicine makers in the field of small molecules.

“I am greatly encouraged that what we have been doing in Africa in the field of drug discovery is being acknowledged and recognised on the global stage,” said Chibale.

His research focuses on delivering safe and affordable treatment options for tuberculosis and malaria, while also creating jobs. H3D is well known for its ground-breaking research into a potential single dose treatment against malaria.

2020 a challenging year

Editor of The Medicine Maker, Stephanie Sutton, said 2020 had proven to be a challenging year for humanity, with volcanic eruptions, bushfires, floods, storms, the melting of glaciers and the emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has brought much of the world to a standstill.

“At times like this, we believe it is even more important to recognise the many people working hard to improve our world. The professionals highlighted in the 2020 Power List are driving the industry forward and saving lives by developing new medicines.”

 

“The professionals highlighted in the 2020 Power List are driving the industry forward and saving lives.”

Chibale, who is the holder of the Neville Isdell Chair in African-centric Drug Discovery and Development and the South Africa Research Chair in Drug Discovery, said the COVID-19 pandemic had shown how vital it is to invest in drug discovery and development in Africa and across the world.

“It is time to train a generation of African scientists to conduct drug discovery and build the critical infrastructure and expertise that can be sustained into the future so that Africa can respond adequately to future pandemics like COVID-19, Chibale said.

“We need to contribute therapies for the benefit of all human beings. We need to do the difficult things now for the sake of a better tomorrow and the next generation.”

The fight against COVID-19

In the more immediate future, he said H3D was ready and willing to play its part in the fight against COVID-19, but needed the funding to do so.

Chibale also said H3D could play a significant role by deploying its well-established, world-class drug discovery infrastructure and expertise to find potential therapies against COVID-19. However, he said this would require new funding to bring in additional resources and capacity as H3D is contractually focused on projects that have already been funded.

“In addition to new funding, what would also be needed is funder- or government-driven coordination of activities to incentivise H3D to work with virologists who can develop COVID-19 screening assays. H3D has no in-house expertise in virology but has in-house drug discovery expertise in medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, which are key and are transferable.”

 

“H3D has … in-house drug discovery expertise in medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, which are key.”

Another way H3D could play an important role is as a partner providing access to its chemical libraries assembled over time for its malaria and tuberculosis projects. These could be repurposed for COVID-19 in a strategy known as drug repurposing or repositioning.

“Drug repurposing is an approach of taking a drug developed for one disease and using it in another disease,” Chibale explained.

An example is the widely reported use of the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in a bid to treat COVID-19.

“Drug repositioning on the other hand is an approach of taking a drug developed for one disease and using it as a template or basis for chemical modifications to generate derivatives that are optimised for use in another disease.”

Collaboration vital

Chibale, who was listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by New African magazine in 2019, and among Fortune magazine’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders in 2018, said it was vital for countries and institutions to work together towards solutions.

“The world is a global village when it comes to global health diseases like COVID-19 and tuberculosis. We need to cooperate to solve these global health pandemics.”

He said COVID-19 had shown us how an infectious agent “can wreck world economies and significantly disrupt life”. Chibale called for increased funding, as well as research to fight infectious diseases.

 

“We need to cooperate to solve these global health pandemics.”

He said building an innovative drug discovery and development industry in African countries had great benefits in the long run.

“By doing drug discovery in Africa, we will be seeding an innovative pharmaceutical industry that will not only seek to address the health challenges of the continent through the discovery of innovative medicines, but also create jobs both in research and development, as well as in manufacturing and other areas.”

Job creation

The H3D director said it would also create a much-needed career pipeline for science graduates.

“COVID-19 has reminded us of the importance of science – not just in providing health solutions, but also in providing evidence to guide government policy and decision-making. Governments that respect science and base decisions on scientific evidence are to be applauded.”

Chibale said it was also important to hold more clinical trials in Africa. Less than 2% of clinical trials are conducted on the continent. This, along with the absence of Africa-specific preclinical tools, has led to medicines not being optimised for African patient populations in terms of dose and dosing regimens, and can lead to inferior treatment outcomes and toxicity concerns.

“We need to improve treatment outcomes for African patients by doing drug discovery in Africa, using Africa-specific preclinical tools and increasing the number of clinical trials.”


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