Major donation to develop tools and models for optimising medicines in African populations

20 June 2023 | Story Supplied. Photo Je’nine May. Voice Cwenga Koyana. Read time 4 min.
H3D director and founder, Professor Kelly Chibale
H3D director and founder, Professor Kelly Chibale

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Holistic Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) has received a donation of US$1.5 million from UCT alumnus and former chairperson and CEO of Coca-Cola Neville Isdell to continue the work of the Neville Isdell Chair in African-centric Drug Discovery and Development.

The Chair was established in 2019 after Isdell donated just over US$1.2 million towards research into the discovery of new medicines for infectious diseases.

H3D director and founder, Professor Kelly Chibale, who holds the Chair, said, “The benefits of this new funding will include continuing with the development of models and tools towards optimising the use of available and future medicines in African populations, which is vital for improving treatment outcomes.”

African-centric drug discovery

Professor Chibale added, “Frontloading African-centric drug discovery into existing preclinical discovery tools is key to addressing inherent variability in responses to treatment among African populations and selecting optimised preclinical drug candidates that could be more suitable for clinical trials by Africans in Africa for Africans.”

The previous funding was instrumental in establishing the H3D African Drug Metabolism and Disposition Project, also known as the H3D African Liver Project. This project addresses the issue of variability in drug response across African populations, which is driven mostly by genetic differences in the expression and activity of drug metabolising enzymes.


“Professor Kelly Chibale has created and led a breakthrough in research into optimised medicines used in Africa.”

The new donation endorses the importance of this work, said Isdell. “Professor Kelly Chibale has created and led a breakthrough in research into optimised medicines used in Africa, which have not historically been served by an African perspective. With his determination, academic rigor and quite strong leadership, his work will save lives and improve health.”

Adding to this, Vice-Chancellor (Interim) Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy said, “The continued support of alumni and donors such as Mr Isdell is so important to UCT’s Vision 2030 and our goal of unleashing human potential for a fair and just society. We can’t achieve that without being aware of our place and role in Africa.

“This research, led by Professor Chibale, an African pioneer in the field, will play a critical role in developing medicines that target the continent’s unique health challenges. Generously funded by Mr Isdell, this work will underscore not only UCT’s role as the continent’s leading university but the responsibility that comes with that.”

Sidney van Heerden, the director of Strategic Initiatives at UCT’s Development and Alumni Department, who facilitated the donation with Chibale, said, “With this continued financial support the continuation of H3D’s work will serve as a further demonstration of an area in which UCT provides global leadership.”

Strong ties

Isdell, who is also a board member and president of the non-profit World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, has maintained strong contact with his alma mater. He was born in Ireland and raised in Zambia, Chibale’s country of origin. He pursued a Bachelor of Social Science degree at UCT before joining Coca-Cola in Zambia in 1966. He worked for the company in 11 countries across the globe before rising to become chairperson and CEO. He has served on the boards of big corporates, including General Motors and the Peace Parks Foundation.

In 2019 he was named president of the 137-year-old UCT Rugby Football Club. A talented rugby player in his youth, Isdell has made several donations to the club, including a significant donation of US$1 million in 2011, which funded the UCT Neville Isdell Rugby Centre. This is in addition to his funding of the Upper Campus Residence, formerly Smuts Hall, and its Neville Isdell Leadership camp.

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