The US-South Africa Program for Collaborative Biomedical Research, which is worth US$40 million, with the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) each funding half the amount, announced this month (13 April) that it will support 31 joint research initiatives.
The initiatives involve South African scientists working with their US counterparts in the areas of HIV/AIDS and TB.
“This commitment to shared funding will lead to new discoveries and help strengthen South African research and research management capacity,” said SAMRC president Glenda Gray, in a statement. “It allows our scientists to work with top US investigators and provides access to the NIH peer review process. We can also engage in joint programme oversight at the highest international standards.”
“This commitment to shared funding will lead to new discoveries and help strengthen South African research and research management capacity.”
Glenda Gray, South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)
Twelve of the grants will cover two years of research, with the remaining 19 covering five-year studies. Initiatives awarded include those addressing HIV prevention, identifying HIV-infected patients and developing strategies for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of HIV-associated cancers, the statement added.
TB research initiatives will focus on prevention and treatment, particularly for TB-infected women and children. Additional research initiatives will be added to the programme over the next two years.
TB is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in South Africa, according to Harry Hausler, CEO of the South Africa-based non-profit organisation TB/HIV Care Association.
“This research funding is very welcome because through collaboration, there is greater chance of finding new ways to prevent, find and treat TB, and relieve the burden of a disease that is the number one cause of death in South Africa,” he says.
According to grant recipient, Robert Wilkinson, from the Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa, about one per cent of the South African population is infected with TB every year.
Wilkinson and research partner Alan Sher, from the NIH-affiliated National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), are to investigate TB treatment outcomes in South African patients.
“South Africa has tremendous disease burden in this area and we have performed many observational studies. However, I am hoping this collaboration will take us to the next level in terms of understanding and deducing mechanisms so that we better understand pathogenesis [how diseases develop],” Wilkinson says.
“This will allow us to more rationally design vaccines and also to derive new host-dependent treatments.”
Having access to TB patient populations that are well characterised and readily accessed by UCT collaborators will benefit US researchers, Sher explains.
“TB is difficult to study in the United States because of the shortage of patients. This collaboration affords us the special ability to study human tuberculosis with international experts in the clinical disease,” Sher says.
Research projects from UCT and seven other South African universities will receive funding from the collaborative programme, which was established in 2013.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.