Page 4 - Innovation at UCT

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Drug and vaccine discovery
given a booster
A number of essential ingredients necessary for drug
and vaccine discovery and development have now been
assembled at UCT, creating the ideal environment for
Vaccine research groups led by professors Anna-Lise
Williamson and Carolyn Williamson have developed two
HIV subtype C vaccines: SAAVI DNA-C2 and SAAVI
MVA-C, in conjunction with the Medical Research Council
(MRC) and the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative
(SAAVI), in response to the prevalent HIV subtype
C epidemic in Southern Africa. These vaccines are
currently in Phase I clinical trials in South Africa and the
USA, one of which has already been approved by the
United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In getting these vaccines this far into development,
members of the research group have gained invaluable
local experience as well as insight into and practical
knowledge of the process of taking a vaccine from initial
research to animal studies and thereafter to human
vaccine trials (see
Figure 7
A further by-product has been the creation of
an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD)-compliant Good Laboratory
Practice facility at UCT. This laboratory, which is the only
OECD-accredited facility in South Africa for the physical
testing of pharmaceuticals, was used for potency testing
of the SAAVI DNA-C2 vaccine.
Another unique facility is the H3-D Drug Discovery
Centre, which brings the research machinery traditionally
housed within big pharmaceutical companies to UCT.
The centre, the first of its kind in Africa, focuses on
a critical zone where the potential of research output
is realised and matured into a form where biotech
companies and pharmaceuticals become interested in
these ‘optimised leads’.
This represents a real opportunity for UCT. Market
conditions are right – there has been a 50 percent
reduction in European in-house pharmaceutical
research and development capacity over the last two
years and 70 percent of new drugs are now accessed
externally by pharmaceutical companies. An important
aspect of the centre is that it provides a local platform
to draw on the potential of traditional knowledge
and indigenous flora as the basis for innovative
pharmaceuticals and to focus on solutions for often
neglected diseases of particular relevance to Africa.
UCT has a number of pharmaceutical-related patents
directed at anti-malarial, anti-TB, and anti-cancer
compounds in its portfolio.
Biomarkers have great potential to be used to provide
insight into how individuals with specific genetic make-ups
will respond to drugs, relevant both in terms of extending
the scope of clinical trials, but also in the context of
investigating responses of African populations to drugs
developed on first-world populations.
Collaboration with the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic
Research (CPGR), an independent research entity
physically located on the UCT campus, is bringing rigour
to moving biomarkers down the innovation chain and
assessing the potential of new inventions. One microarray
developed by DST/NRF SARChI Chairholder Professor
Jonathan Blackburn of the Institute of Infectious Disease
and Molecular Medicine has already been licensed to
CPGR and is now included in their routine analytical
service offering. This close interaction is expected to
translate other UCT inventions into other future innovations.
These proteomic- (protein) and genomic (genes and
chromosomes)-based assays can also play a key role
in drug discovery, so there are strong synergies with the
H3-D Drug Discovery Centre.
Clinical trials
underpin new drug development. UCT
has well-established expertise in this space and is
extensively involved in phase one, two, and three trials
for a large number of pharmaceutical companies,
foundations, not-for-profit entities, governmental, and
intergovernmental organisations. For example, UCT is
currently the lead contractor in more than ten European
and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership
(EDCTP) multi-site trials.
Researchers in the H-3D Drug Discovery laboratory.