MMV390048: Boosting African Research

Dr Michael Witty, Member of MMV's ESAC and Project Mentor

MMV390048 is a novel antimalarial compound belonging to the aminopyridine class. The chemical series was initially identified by Griffith University scientists in Australia as part of MMV’s extensive malaria screening campaign of around 6 million compounds. A team of scientists from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) in South Africa, led by Prof. Kelly Chibale then scrutinised and further explored the antimalarial potential of the series.

With parasitological and pharmaceutical support from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and Monash University, respectively, the team selected the most promising compounds from the series to be optimized and re-tested. In July 2012, a compound was selected for preclinical development. It shows potent activity against multiple developmental stages of the malaria parasite’s lifecycle, with potential for transmission blocking.

1. What was your role as project mentor?

My role was three-fold – strategic, tactical and personal. First, to assist the development of the project I brought my own creativity, knowledge and experience of the malaria field. Second, I helped to provide a link between the team and ESAC to ensure alignment with MMV’s Target Product Profiles and Progression Criteria. Third, I helped where I could in terms of team and project management.

2. Why is this project important to you?

I have contributed to a number of successful drug and vaccine R&D projects over a long career but this one has the potential to relieve suffering for millions of people.

I have been involved in this project since its outset, initially prioritizing and optimiz ing the hits from screening of the Biofocus libraries at the Eskitis Institute and now overseeing the work to move the compound into man. I have invested a lot of myself in the work, as have Kelly and his team.

The project is very important to the UCT team, as it has the potential to deliver the first antimalarial drug researched in Africa.

3. Why has this project been successful?

Traditionally, academic groups are slower than industry teams in progressing hits into development, owing to other demands on their time, such as teaching, and grant and article writing. From the outset, Kelly has been willing to embrace the industry approach in an academic setting. His team has been focused on selecting and progressing the best compound for clinical development. Creating H3-D2, Africa’s first integrated drug discovery and development centre, demonstrates this commitment.

Kelly has also been very proactive in seeking funding for equipment and bringing in expertise. Through the MMV network, we have been able to access the expertise of world-class talent such as Drs Sue Charman (Monash University) and Sergio Wittlin (Swiss TPH) among others.

4. What has the experience taught you?

The lessons are not new but worth repeating:

  • Commitment, focus and collaboration are critical to team success.
  • Visions can be achieved by hard-working, enthusiastic and committed leaders.
  • MMV’s partnership model can achieve success where the individual pharmaceutical companies have fallen short.
  • There is as much satisfaction in helping others to succeed as succeeding oneself.
  • Retirement can be even more satisfying, productive and fun than working full-time!