Funds to help develop new drugs in Africa
By McGill Reporter Staff
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have jointly awarded a $1-million grant to McGill parasitologist Timothy Geary to support landmark research in addressing parasitic diseases through medicines derived from African biodiversity. The grant was officially announced at a press conference at McGill’s Life Sciences Complex on Jan. 24.
More than one billion people suffer from what are called Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), which cause disfigurement, disability and even death in the developing world. Geary’s research focuses on parasitic worms, or helminths, which live inside the body. Diseases such as hookworm, river blindness and elephantiasis cause stunted growth and cognitive impairment in children, horrific debilitating and disfiguring symptoms in adults, and make escaping the cycle of poverty virtually impossible.
“While there have been advances in the past few years in providing drugs to control the disease, there is so much more that can be done to eliminate NTDs and bring hope to many for a better future,” said Geary, a Canada Research Chair in Parasite Biotechnology and Director of McGill’s Institute of Parasitology.
“The drugs we plan to develop through this research will combat growing resistance to existing therapies, an important next step in the treatment and control of parasitic disease.”
Geary’s breakthrough research, conducted in partnership with Eliane Ubalijoro of the Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill, focuses on identifying compounds from African botanical and microbial sources that can lead to new drugs to eliminate parasitic worms from the body. In this approach, he works in partnership with African scientists, particularly Kelly Chibale of the University of Cape Town, and Berhanu Abegaz and Kerstin Marobela of the University of Botswana, believing that partners from disease-endemic countries are critically important for finding new solutions to these infections.
“At McGill, we value harnessing our excellence in basic research to provide real-life solutions to real-life problems, to society’s greatest and most complex issues,” said Dr. Rosie Goldstein, McGill’s Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), who served as host at the event. “We are committed to fulfilling our responsibility and assuming that responsibility to bring our talents to the most important of the world’s challenges. And those challenges are local, national and global. We also know that these challenges are not conquered alone, and that’s why we’re building partnerships, like the important one we are announcing today.”
The $1-million award is a collaboration among three funders: $500,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; $250,000 from Grand Challenges Canada through the Canadian government’s Capital Development Innovation Fund; and $250,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Pierre Chartrand, CIHR’s Vice-President Research, paid tribute to the McGill researchers and their commitment to including African colleagues in the research process.
“They are researchers who understand that health science is more effective when those who will benefit from the research results are involved from the very start in the development process through inclusion and participation,” Chartrand said.
The grant was the first awarded by Grand Challenges Canada, an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people in developing countries by integrating scientific, technological, business and social innovation. The organization, launched in 2010, works with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and other global health foundations and organizations to find sustainable long-term solutions to the most pressing health challenges.
“This is about Canadians helping Africans help themselves; an effective and long-term approach to the challenges developing countries face,” said Grand Challenges Canada CEO Peter Singer. “This is a milestone celebration for us. This is like fireworks lighting up the sky on Canada Day.”
Steven Buchsbaum, Deputy Director of Discovery, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, lauded the collaborative effort between all of the Canadian organizations involved in what he called “a new model” of funding.
“We ultimately hope that this unique leadership role that Canadians are taking in this type of funding is something that other countries will seek to emulate,” he said.
To learn more about this project, Tim Geary, and McGill’s Institute of Parasitology, read the Entre Nous interview with Geary on Page 4. To view a video of Geary discussing his team’s work with parasitic diseases, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrEDfJrGPVo.