Advancing Innovative Medicines Discovery in Africa

July 21, 2022

In the framework of WIPO’s 63rd Series of Meetings of the Assemblies of the Member States (July 14-22, 2022), the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) and WIPO held a side event to discuss the promises and challenges of advancing the discovery and development of innovative medicines in Africa.

Speakers from left to right: Professor Kelly Chibale, Senior Counsellor at the WIPO Regional Division for Africa Loretta Asiedu, Ambassador Athaliah Molokomme, ADG Edward Kwakwa, and Assistant Director General of IFPMA Greg Perry. (Photo: WIPO)

“Africans themselves are best placed to drive health innovations in Africa,” said WIPO Assistant Director-General Edward Kwakwa, in charge of the Global Challenges and Partnership Sector, when he opened the meeting.

Sitting three chairs down from him on stage was the embodiment of that statement, Professor Kelly Chibale, Founder and Director of H3D (Holistic Drug Discovery and Development Centre).

“Start with what you have, where you are.”

Africa holds a disproportionate share of the global burden of diseases. At the same time, African researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs are on the front lines of finding solutions to their public health needs.

“Young people are the new wealth creators of the future, and we must start with what we have, where we are,” proclaimed Ambassador Athaliah Molokomme, Permanent Representative of Botswana to the United Nations Office in Geneva, who also spoke at the side event. She went on to tell the audience that certain drugs deemed safe by regulators in other parts of the world may not necessarily work for Africans due to their unique genetic diversity.  

Three of the main challenges to health innovation in Africa mentioned in the event were the lack of opportunities, the low volume of clinical trials in Africa, and the region's multilayered social, political, and economic burdens. 

Joining the other speakers on stage were Greg Perry, Assistant Director General of IFPMA, and Loretta Asiedu, Senior Counsellor at the WIPO Regional Division for Africa and moderator of the meeting.

The Scientist

Professor Chibale, originally from Zambia, is blazing the trail. He founded H3D in 2010, and his vision for the organization is to be “the leading organization for integrated drug discovery and development in Africa.”

To catalyze drug discovery and development in the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent, the celebrated innovator is working both to develop necessary medicines optimized to treat African populations and through the H3D Foundation, leveraging IP and partnerships and networks to develop African-led partnerships to produce more African scientific leaders.

During his 30-minute presentation and subsequent exchange with participants, he shared his experiences, knowledge, views, and ideas on how to tackle the challenges to Africa’s health innovation ecosystem.   “COVID-19 reminded me of the urgency of innovation,” said Professor Chibale during his speech. “Working on unmet medical needs requires innovative solutions.”

The African Union (AU) recently published the Health Research and Innovation Strategy for Africa (HRISA) pdf, its policy paper to support the further development of the continent’s health technology and innovation ecosystem.

H3D’s partners include Merck KGaA, Johnson & Johnson, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, the Government of South Africa, and many other stakeholders.