Limited resources and other barriers have long stymied advances in medical research infrastructure in Africa. But the situation is starting to change. Many countries are making greater investments in science as part of broader efforts to tackle local health problems.
Novartis is working with local partners across Africa to build research capacity. Through the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research it has sponsored training programs in several African countries and is also partnering with academic institutions to build drug discovery and development capabilities.
In the area of education, the institutes worked together with the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Division and the Sandoz generic medicines division to sponsor training programs in six African countries in 2013, attracting more than 500 scientists and physicians. In addition, Novartis granted personalized training to more than 50 African scientists at its labs in Switzerland and the United States. The ties established during these exchanges often create enduring scientific collaborations.
Novartis also supports specific research initiatives. For example, bioequivalence studies are important to address the issue of drug quality in Africa where a significant portion of available medicines have been shown to be sub-standard.
In 2013, Novartis created a workshop to help African researchers construct safe and effective Phase I trial facilities for bioequivalence studies. These workshops were very successful in Kenya and Ghana, and Novartis is now responding to requests to bring this capability to colleagues in Tanzania, Ethiopia and other countries, including South Africa where Novartis helped set up a first-in-human study site to test new medicines in African populations.
Another partnership focuses on early stage drug discovery. In 2013 the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and the University of Cape Town in South Africa launched a collaboration to expand research capabilities at the university’s Drug Discovery and Development Center. The center is the first research institution in Africa to successfully bring a new compound – an antimalarial drug candidate – from the screening phase to preclinical development. Under this partnership Novartis provides training grants and infrastructure upgrades, offers university researchers advanced research training at Novartis labs, and delivers on-site training by Novartis scientists.