With modern day illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and smoking related illnesses becoming increasingly prevalent, South Africa, and the African continent, is sitting on a non-communicable disease time bomb that it is ill equipped to fight. With a shortage of quality scientific data to properly manage and treat these potentially life-threatening diseases, the requirement for funding to develop research capacity has never been greater. In response to this unmet need, the AstraZeneca Research Trust has awarded another seven local grants totalling R1.5m for the 2015/2016 year. This brings to 18 the total number of research grants conferred locally by the Trust since its inception.
An independent non-profitable body set up in 2014 for the disbursement of R4.5m for medical research funding over three years, to date the Trust has allocated R3m of this commitment. Managed by a scientific steering committee consisting of six highly respected academics from various institutions around the country, AstraZeneca has no influence in any decisions made regarding the fund allocation. The grants are awarded solely at the discretion of the Professors who screen, review and ultimately with full autonomy, decide on the apportionment of the funding. With literally hundreds of applications received, all worthy of consideration, the committee has been severely challenged in narrowing down the final selections.
The 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 researchers who have been successful in their applications, represent three academic institutions, including the University of Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town and University of KwaZulu-Natal. A diverse spectrum of research across different disease areas has been approved, some of which is already well underway, including but not limited to Nephrology, HIV, Breast Cancer, Cardiometabolic Disease, COPD, NCDs and Infectious Diseases.
AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals Vice President Medical & Regulatory SA & SSA, Dr Jas Bhana, speaking at the 2015/2016 Research Trust Awards evening said that it’s hoped the academic research grants, conferred for high level non-interventional studies, including doctoral and post-doctoral work, will generate much needed data in the area of non-communicable diseases; significant data currently not available.
“We anticipate that our grants will help us meet a huge area of unmet need, ensuring the reprioritisation of healthcare initiatives and reshaping the landscape as we know it. Recognised as an innovative partnership to help build research capabilities, to date 59 studies have been awarded funding, a figure that includes the local studies, as well as those being funded by the Research Trusts set up in Nigeria and Kenya,” said Bhana.
Commenting on the lack of available data on the continent, Bhana says that research funding is customarily allocated to compound and chemical entity developments. “With extensive investment into research on HIV infection and TB, there has been little investment and focus on non-communicable diseases. Without current, accurate data, we have no line of sight to the extent of the problem, nor how to manage it. There is virtually no data on black females in even the most basic disease areas. We want to change this and be part of the data generation process – even if we cannot use it directly as a company – we want to be part of the solution.”
In the spirit of the project, and committed to unprejudiced research findings, AstraZeneca has made no attempt to limit the research to the therapeutic areas it is operational in.
“Through the Research Trust we have set up in South Africa and those on the continent, we are helping realise the full potential of Africa, always ‘putting the patient first’, while at the same time positioning AstraZeneca as a company that co-creates with local communities and academia, to meet the healthcare needs of African patients. In an area of the world where access to good healthcare and medicines remains difficult, we are committed to strengthening our medical platforms by investing in medical science through our Trusts,” concluded Bhana.
This initiative is supported unconditionally by AstraZeneca. Further information can be found at: www.astrazenecatrust.co.za