H3D is based at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in Cape Town, South Africa, where it has a large footprint, collaborating and providing services to a range of institutes across the continent. In addition to the advice and services, H3D also provides drug discovery training through our open drug discovery webinar program.

Through our capacity building initiatives, and with support from our numerous partners and collaborators, we aim to reduce barriers for African scientists to break new ground within the drug discovery-related sciences. With the overall objective to build new capabilities, and continue to strengthen existing competencies, in this discipline across Africa.

One of our key capacity building initiatives is in collaboration with the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), through its Grand Challenges programme, Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). This initiative came together in 2018 with the specific aim to expand and strengthen the drug discovery community in Africa. This initiative seeks to target the best African scientists in drug discovery either already working in the field or whose expertise can be leveraged to bring positive change while at the same time create a cohort of future leaders to build and sustain world-class research teams in this science.


Grand Challenges Africa Drug Discovery

The first cohort of eight drug discovery scientists was successfully awarded, in June 2019, after a rigorous selection process. The successful scientists are based at the following institutions; University of Yaoundé, University of Ghana, Malaria Research Training Centre, Rhodes University, Technical University of Kenya and University of Ibadan.

The Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) at the University of Cape Town is a key partner in this collaboration. We provide guidance based on our experience in conducting drug discovery projects on the continent to make this program a success. H3D offers access to our facilities and screening services in order to address gaps identified at the African partner institution. H3D will specifically participate in this program by providing opportunities to African partners:

  1. to be immersed within H3D’s ongoing malaria and TB drug discovery projects as full project members working from their home institutions 
  2. to use H3D infrastructure, technology platforms and expertise to fill gaps in their own environment 
  3. to generate key data from existing screening assays to support the projects at the African partner institution as well as to provide project management support and guidance with data interpretation
  4.  to tap into existing H3D/pharmaceutical industry scientist exchange programs for capacity building in order to gain additional skills

The first cohort was a success as measured by various metrics: 71 scientific jobs created and supported by the grant; 24 new partnerships/collaborations established, including access to complementary expertise, specialized equipment, and laboratories; 12 journal publications; community and public engagement activities which reached ~1700 people; improvements to home institution infrastructure, including USD35k in new equipment. The drug discovery outputs are still at an early stage, and continue to evolve, however preliminary results around novel drug discovery targets, new assays established, and various hit assessments activities are available. These achievements are particularly impressive considering that the cohort 1 projects spanned the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant national shutdowns.

In June 2020 AAS released the call for the 2nd cohort of scientists to be supported by this programme and the new cohort is currently being supported by H3D and partners.

Drug Discovery Capacity in South Africa

H3D has also explored models for working with researchers based at historically disadvantaged institutions (HDIs) within South Africa, with the aim to support the researchers by providing access to the H3D facilities and services, training opportunities for the students, hands on lab supervision during scientific exchange visits and ongoing project management support for jointly executed projects. The first of these projects was a pilot project with Walter Sisulu University (WSU) where H3D approached the South African Medical Research Council and proposed a model where H3D provided project management support and full access to the H3D drug discovery platforms to support WSU students supervised by a WSU professor to prosecute their own drug discovery research projects. The partnership with H3D unlocked funding for the project, training on specialized scientific equipment, interpretation of biology and pharmacology assays, grant management support, networking opportunities, and support for joint publications.

The second model that H3D has explored is through including HDI’s on international grant applications led by H3D with subaward budgets for the HDI, to allow for full immersion of the HDI students on a global drug discovery project, including periods of scientific visits to the H3D laboratories for lab-based training. 

Both of these models have proven to be an effective and there is strong interest from the South African government to support and fund further projects of this nature. To this end, H3D needs to increase its infrastructure capacity to host the visiting researchers and students.

H3D is currently supporting two 3 year TB drug discovery projects funded by the SAMRC, one with the University of Limpopo and another with University of Venda.

University of Limpopo Team