DST/CSIR’s Nanomedicine Research programme awarded status as ANDI Centre of Excellence in health innovation

Dr Hulda Shaidi Swai, head of the DST/CSIR Nanomedicine Research Centre of Excellence, receives a token of recognition from Tanzania's Ambassador in Ethiopia, Dr Joram Biswaro
Dr Hulda Shaidi Swai, head of the DST/CSIR Nanomedicine Research Centre of Excellence, receives a token of recognition from Tanzania’s Ambassador in Ethiopia, Dr Joram Biswaro

The CSIR’s nanomedicine research programme, sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), has been awarded Centre of Excellence in health innovation status by the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI). Based at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, ANDI promotes and sustains African-led product research and development innovation through the discovery, development and delivery of affordable new tools.

The field of nanomedicine has a great number of applications. A cross-cutting theme is that it works at a molecular or atomic scale. The CSIR’s nanomedicine research programme pertains specifically to the repackaging of already existing medicines for poverty-related diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), using nanotechnology, in order to enhance its efficacy.

“Unveiling the ANDI Centres of Excellence marks an important step to providing affordable medicines for all Africans,” says Mrs Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology and the co-chair of the ANDI Board. She also stressed the need to devise African solutions in Africa and generate jobs, skills and enterprises through research and development on the continent in collaboration with global partners.

According to Dr Liesbeth Botha, Executive Director for the Materials Science and Manufacturing research unit at the CSIR, where the Centre of Excellence resides, this new status has already created several opportunities that can assist with the centre’s goal of researching and developing solutions to poverty-related diseases through nanomedicine.

“These opportunities include, among others, greater access to funding sources and a heightened interest from researchers in the field seeking employment at the centre,” she explains. “We are now also being approached by more institutions, both national and international, that wants to collaborate with us.”

Dr Hulda Shaidi Swai, who heads up the DST/CSIR Nanomedicine Research Centre of Excellence, elaborates on what the ANDI status means to the centre: “We can now revisit some of the medicines that have been developed in Africa but shelved because of clinical failure and reformulate them through nanotechnology. This way, we can assist with the commercialisation of more African products. We will also be assisting with the development of human capacity building through exchange programmes, nanomedicine masters’ classes, sabbaticals and other initiatives to alleviate the critical skills shortage on our continent.”

The DST/CSIR Nanomedicine Research Centre of Excellence is the only one of its kind in the world. This centre concentrates its efforts on finding solutions specifically for poverty-related diseases such as TB, malaria and HIV/Aids through the revolutionary field of nanomedicine.

Swai explains that poverty-related diseases have been and still are a neglected area of research by the world’s primary pharmaceutical companies and researchers in the developed world. Where nanomedicine has effectively been applied to develop products for money-spinning diseases such as cancer, it is left to African researchers and those in other developing areas of the world to concentrate on poverty-related diseases.

“Being awarded the status of an ANDI Centre of Excellence means that we are being recognised internationally by the United Nations, through the World Health Organisationz, as a pan-African research centre that can truly make a difference. The status gives us credibility. We have, for instance, already been invited to be involved in developing nanomedicine as a subject for the curriculum of the Pan-African Universities, and to write concept notes of our activities to the World Bank,” she says.

ANDI made the announcement of their 32 Centres of Excellence in health innovation at its annual stakeholders meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting, held on 24 to 27 October this year, was attended by over 400 participants including scientists, policy makers and donors, governmental and non-governmental organisations from Africa and beyond.

According to UNECA, there are serious fears that Africa may not meet some of the health-related targets of the millennium development goals and ANDI, by assisting to coordinate Africa’s most promising health-specific research activities, is seen as a key mechanism for achieving these.

Story: CSIR eNews, December 2011