Comic books, science fiction and colour inspire two of ‘175 Faces of Chemistry’

MMV partners profiled in RSC initiative celebrating diversity in the chemical sciences

09 Oct 2015

Prof. Luiz Carlos Dias, State University of Campinas, Brazil, and Prof. Kelly Chibale, University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, have been selected by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), UK, to feature among their 175 Faces of Chemistry. Other scientists thus honoured include Marie Curie, Primo Levi and Alfred Nobel. 

Leading up to the RSC’s 175th anniversary on 23rd of February 2016, 175 scientists will be profiled. The aim is to celebrate the diversity of individuals within the chemistry community who have helped shape the field, both past and present, identifying role models and ambassadors for future generations of chemists.

Prof. Dias’ collaboration with MMV and fellow Product Development Partnership, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), is unprecedented in Brazil and will help to advance drug discovery of poverty-related diseases endemic to the country. In particular, the project looks at published active compounds – including those from MMV’s Open Access Malaria Box – as starting points for the discovery of a compound that could ultimately be used for the prevention and treatment of malaria.

“As a child, I was always fascinated by science fiction films like Star Trek and Captain Marvel. This sparked my interest in chemistry,” said Prof. Dias. “Today, what fascinates me is the possibility of using my interest and knowledge to discover new drugs for neglected diseases to help save lives. It’s a real honour to be profiled by the RSC among Nobel Prize winners like Marie Curie.”

Prof. Chibale and his team have been working with MMV since 2009 in search of new molecules with the potential to become next-generation antimalarials. MMV048, a promising new molecule researched through the collaboration, has completed phase I clinical trials at UCT. It is not only the first time such a molecule has been researched in Africa, it is also the first time a potential new antimalarial has entered volunteer studies in Africa.  

 “I fell in love with chemistry during high school in Zambia, enjoying the chemical reactions and colour changes,” said Prof. Chibale. “Today, I enjoy the logic of organic chemistry and ability to create new molecules with potentially new properties. Working with MMV on antimalarial drug discovery is important for me. As an African I feel compelled to contribute to finding solutions to health problems that plague the continent and to debunk the myth that Africa is not, and cannot be, a source of health innovation. I feel greatly honoured to be selected by the RSC for this initiative as this gives me the opportunity to be a role model for other Africans, showing that through partnerships like the one with MMV, it is possible to use science for development. I strongly believe that Africa needs science and not aid.”

 “Luiz and Kelly are experienced and passionate chemists, but moreover they are champions and pioneers for drug discovery in Brazil and South Africa,” said Dr Tim Wells, Chief Scientific Officer at MMV. “These are countries in the heartland of the most malarious regions in the world, where this expertise is really needed. I can’t think of two more worthy candidates to represent the rich diversity of chemistry leaders shaping the field today.”