Pandor announces major research imperative for South Africa

In her Budget speech to Parliament next week, Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, will be announcing substantial funding for additional scientific research chairs at South African universities, to be released over the next three years.

Speaking at the World Congress of Pharmacology, currently underway in Cape Town, the minister said that it was “time that countries in Africa moved from being someone’s client, to being producers of products”.

“We want to develop commercial products that will address the burden of disease on the continent,” she said. “We have to find our own solutions.”

Pandor said that 157 chairs had already been awarded, and the results had been clear, both in the rapid increase in successful post-graduate students and in the meaningful research that was being produced in South Africa’s universities and research laboratories.

“We know that we have examples of research excellence in South Africa and we also have many significant problems. Our aim as government is to draw the two together, to good effect,” she said.

The minister reiterated that South Africa sees its role as a research leader on the African continent. “Our development will always be accompanied by further steps to ensure that the entire continent advances at the same time.”

Pandor praised the country’s research community for its strong commitment to both basic and clinical science. “We are seeing encouraging moves in translational research where findings from basic science move into practical applications which, in turn, have an impact on the health of our people. This gives us a major competitive advantage.”

Pandor was also encouraged by the increase in clinical testing in South Africa. She pointed to the growing need for antiretrovirals and the planned facility for the local development of active ingredients for ARV treatment. We are making great strides in the treatment of HIV and TB, but Pandor called for more development.

“We are determined to be world leaders,” she said. “Our aim is to provide solutions to the 44 neglected diseases that ravage the African continent.”

Conferences such as WCP2014 were of vital importance, she said, for “the development of the strong and vibrant pharmacology profession we need so vitally for the health of the African continent.”

Guide to pharmacology, on the web

Anyone wanting an illustrative and informed guide to pharmacology should visit the web portal. Here you will find a rich repository of data listing all potential drug targets in the entire human genome. It is an enormous collaboration involving over 800 scientists, organized into 80 subcommittees dedicated to sharing and distributing expert knowledge through this open access resource.

‘It is dedicated to the discovery and understanding of real pharmacology’ says Professor Michael Spedding, Chair of IUPHAR (International union of Basic and Clinical pharmacology), and joint supporter of this project with BPS (British Pharmacology Society). The failure rate in the development of drugs is billions of dollars. ‘The database serves as a crystallised form of new knowledge to prevent failure’.

It is also an opportunity for publications submitted by ambitious scientists to gain recognition, with the database boasting an exemplary high index rating for the number of times articles are cited. Its achievements have earned it a clean reputation, expertly curated by a dedicated team of five . Data is sourced from field experts who are subcommittee members. It is not simply a matter of data trawling , assures Prof Spedding, with so many variables to be considered , an automated systems approach would not afford the same ‘degree of precision’.

‘Accompanying the process of discovery’, the Guide to Pharmacology is a valuable resource for anyone from industry to academia.




Combination of drugs brings hope for Alzheimers patients

Alzheimers disease (AD), often referred to as dementia, occurs after the age of 65, causing the sufferer steady loss of memory as the disease progresses. While new drugs continue to come into focus no treatment is currently available which will stop or reverse the progression of this debilitating disease.

But now, research in the area is gaining ground, as researchers from China gather at the first African-hosted World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology held at the CTICC in Cape Town, to showcase their findings.

Setting new standards in AD treatment, they report how disease outcomes can be improved when tackling it from more than one angle.

We are seeing some encouraging results,” said Dr Wenxia Zhou from the Memory and Aging Centre based at the University of California. They show that existing drugs, which have been only moderately effective in treating the disease, become highly effective when used in combination with one another. Such an approach is powerful as the disease is caused by multiple factors. Therefore it makes sense to target more than one factor in treatment in order to overcome the disease.

To further illustrate the success of targeting multiple disease-causing factors , Prof Lin Li , from the department of pharmacology at Xuanwu Hospital in China,

has from traditional Chinese medicines (TCM), derived a powerful six herb cocktail mixture known as the Shun-Wu capsule. Having successfully completed phase III trials it is awaiting approval from the Chinese FDA for manufacturing and marketing.

Another approach is monotherapy, but where the active compound hits multiple targets. Leading the way here is Dr Haiyan Zhang from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who is dedicated to finding natural active components with which to treat central nervous system disorders.

Comparing healthy subjects whose biological network is in a steady state to diseased patients where an imbalance has occurred helps researchers uncover nerve cell anomalies. When this happens the cells eventually die. The prime suspects are the sticky proteins called plaques that build up in the brain and twisted strands of neural fibres known as tangles.

By targeting dysfunctional proteins, balance is once again achieved, and all that fades is the memory of those once indelible scars.


Strengthening ties between Europe and Africa

The e-Infrastructures for Africa, a programme to strengthen Euro-African cooperation in infrastructure and science, seeks to improve African pharmacology with a portal dedicated to the continent.

The pilot Pharmacological Sciences Gateway under e-Infrastructures for Africa (ei4Africa), was discussed by delegates at the 17th World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, which runs from 13-18 July 2014 in Cape Town. The portal funded by the European Union under the EU’s Framework 7 programme provides training and mentorship for African pharmacologists. The portal was developed last year by a consortium of seven African institutions headed by the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology (AiBST) based in Zimbabwe.

Collen Masimirembwa, the coordinator of the initiative told delegates at the Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology that the aim of the portal to is promote research and mentorship of pharmacologists in Africa.

According to Douglas Oliver, Chair of the Pharmacology for Africa (PharfA) initiative, the field of pharmacology, which draws upon how medicines work to treat and manage disease, has seen significant growth on the continent. The PharfA initiative, founded in 2006, has supported pharmacological activities in East Africa, West Africa, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Egypt. PharfA has also been instrumental in supporting the founding of new pharmacological societies on the continent.

The initiative is a legacy project of the Congress, and was announced when South Africa won the bid to host the event, in Beijing in 2006. Masimirembwa, director of AiBST says, they are seeking support and collaboration to make accessible tools for pharmacology research on the portal. The portal will offer training that will ensure pharmacology researchers from the North will collaborate with those in the South and also see marked improvement in to South-South research. The tools include how to write research proposals.We want to remove physical barriers in research across Africa,” said Masimirembwa.

The portal intends to train post-doctoral students and middle career scientists to become independent research leaders.

There is need to see continued research activity post PhD work, he says The project will start with training on genomics and bioinformatics, bioanalysis, drug analysis and metabolism, clinical trial sciences and a digital library.

Masimirembwa says five experts in each field will be selected to produce content for the website and these will be blended with international researchers.The pharmacology website must engage African stakeholders so that they see value in this particular platform,” he said.

Masimirembwa says by the end of August 2014, the initiative will seek endorsement from partners and individual donors for the project to continue and nomination of project team leaders. The other issue tabled for discussion before the end of the year is long-term plan for sustainability.

The seven African institutes in the programme are AiBST, University of Nairobi from Kenya, University of Addis Abba in Ethiopia, Muhimbili University in Tanzania, Makerere University in Uganda, University of Ibadan in Nigeria and University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Michael Spedding, Chairman NC-IUPHAR and CEO of Spedding Research Solutions SARL talks about the open source pharmacological research and expert database

Meet the delegates



Peter Aziba is from the Department of Pharmocology at Olabisi Onabanjo University in Nigeria. He says the conference experience so far has been fantastic. He is attending talks which focus on neurodegenerative diseases in hope of meeting potential collaborators for his work in smooth muscle. He raises concerns for the lack of funding in his department. “ Basic and traditional methods in pharmacology are been neglected,” he says. His hopes are to network and secure funding from advanced nations for equipment and ongoing research in Nigeria.


Dr Kavita Gulati is a speaker from India talking in the ‘Nitric oxide research reveals new ideas in pharmocology’ session. She is from the University of Dehli’s department of pharmocology. Praising the translational value of research presented at the conference, she applauds how “basic research has been applied to clinical conditions ”. Drawing on some of the conference shortcomings, she mentions the shortage of discussion forums, mainly underpinned by the touristic ambitions of many attendees.



Dr Jian-Guo Chen is Chair person at the Department of Pharmocology at Huazhong University of Science and Technology and Vice director of the Wuhan Institute of Biotechnology in China. “I am interested in neuropsychopharmocology , a fast growing field progressing rapidly”. He has found the conference to be very well organized. His conference highlights so far are Stephen Stahl’s plenary talk on psychopharmocology and the Tuesday morning session he attended on neuropsychiatric drug targets chaired by John Cryan.


David Durrant is a delegate from the Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Virginia Commonwealth University. His is interested in pancreatic cancer, and although he says oncology participants make up a very small group , many of the talks he has attended have similarities. When asked about his conference highlights,” Location, ” he smiles widely. Its his first time visiting South Africa.


New measures to manage antibiotic resistance sought


New measures to manage antibiotic resistance sought

New measures are required to control diseases as the lifesaving power of antibiotics is becoming less effective through resistance due to overuse, experts attending the 17th World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology in Cape Town said.

Antibiotics worldwide are becoming ineffective through mutation or the acquisition of resistant genes from other organisms, which in turn leads to resistance to the antibiotics. This has triggered fears of a growing health burden of untreatable diseases.

Marc Mendelson, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of Southern Africa said the rampant use of antibiotics bred the emergence of antibiotic resistance.

Mendelson said poor hygiene at hospitals was contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance, tuining simple infections into untreatable diseases.

Adrian Brink, clinical microbiologist in the department of clinical microbiology and infectious, diseases at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, said the uncontrolled acquisition of antibiotics over the counter was compounding the global problem.

Brink noted that appropriate use of antimicrobial agents should not only be done in human, but also in veterinary medicine to curb the development of resistance.

With the prospect of getting new class of antibiotics in 15 to 20 years, Mendelson came up with checklist to rationally use antibiotics.

He said physicians should ask themselves if antibiotics needed at all. They need to ensure that appropriate cultures had been sent for testing and to ensure that the dosage of the antibiotic was correct.

Antibiotic stewardship in the public and private sectors should be strengthened,” he said.

He suggested that gaps in current knowledge should be identified and the necessary operational research should be undertaken to inform practice. The feedback should be shared with stakeholders to implement change.

Mendelson said academic training in antibiotic stewardship and sharing of antibiotic stewardship information in the healthcare system and civil society was crucial.