MMV390048 - Project of the Year

2012
Professor Kelly Chibale, Founder and Director of the University of Cape Town’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D)

A novel antimalarial compound from the aminopyridine class, MMV390048, becomes the first researched in Africa to enter preclinical development. Kelly Chibale, Project Leader of the UCT team speaks about the compound and the collaboration with MMV. 

1. What is special about the collaboration that identified the compound?

The project was not conducted using the traditional pharmaceutical industry model but the product development partnership model of MMV. We worked with partners from across the world: Griffith University and Monash University, both in Australia, Swiss TPH, and Syngene in India. That’s what makes it special. Academic institutions worked together under the mentorship of experienced scientists from pharma, specifically Mike Witty of MMV’s Expert Scientific Advisory Committee (ESAC) and David Waterson (MMV Project Director), with some key assays carried out by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Without MMV’s network the project would simply not have got this far.

2. How did you coordinate the input of different partners from all over the world?

From the outset, MMV set clear progression criteria and a need to integrate all activities. This meant regular meetings. We held biweekly chemistry meetings and monthly project meetings, with all partners. But nothing beats face-to-face, so we also had two meetings each year where everyone came together under one roof to discuss all the data and the next steps. The project management provided by MMV was a critical ingredient.

3. Are there any other advantages of working with MMV on this kind of project?

MMV gave us a head start by providing access to a good project and the starting points selected from a library of drug-like molecules. As Tim Wells (MMV’s Chief Scientific Officer) once said, by working from such a library “we start in year 4 instead of year 1”. Also, by working with MMV, we knew that our project was globally aligned, and the work would not be duplicated elsewhere.

MMV provided us with an outstanding mentor, Mike Witty. His and David’s input have been invaluable for me and all the post-doctoral researchers here. Between David, Mike, and now Leslie Street, who joined H3-D in April 2012 as Head of Medicinal Chemistry, we benefit from 80 years’ worth of combined pharma industry experience!

MMV also provides sustained funding, which does not always happen for academic projects. This enables us to build and maintain the talent needed to progress the project. Of course, it all depends on us meeting project goals and milestones and all going well at the ESAC annual review. MMV’s contribution to the future of drug discovery in Africa is immeasurable – it has set in motion a virtuous circle of capacity building at UCT that can now not only be used for malaria but also for other diseases, like TB. It means that African scientists have a chance to develop their careers at home rather than abroad.

Plus the project is helping to counter Afro-pessimism. It’s the first time a drug researched on African soil has progressed this far. Once you have shown you can do something never done before it sets a precedent.