Pharmaceutical Giants, GSK and Novartis have announced the launch of a $3.6 million funding collaboration to support high-quality scientific research to explore the link between genetic diversity across different regions in Africa and its potential impact on response to drug therapeutics.

The call for application for the Project tagged Genomic Research Approach for Diversity and Optimising Therapeutics (GRADIENT), which will run for over five years has already been sent out for African researchers to submit robust research proposals on the relevance of African genetic diversity to the treatment of malaria and tuberculosis.

Project Africa GRADIENT comprises three funding mechanisms to support. These include a limited number of fellowships in academic institutions with a reputation for global excellence to collect and analyse data on determinants of drug response; hypothesis-driven research focused on understanding genetic regional variation in drug response and seed-fund to support a limited number of projects to enable the exploration of new research goals, depending on the results from 1 and 2.

Within the scope of the agreement, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) will administer the project, and a Joint Steering Committee will oversee the review of submitted proposals.

According to a statement by the firms on Tuesday, priority will be given to research aimed at collecting data from currently under-represented regions and improving the scientific robustness of inconsistent data. All datasets collated are planned to be released in a public database to catalyse a positive change in approach to understanding variations in treatment efficacy and safety for patients across the continent.

Pauline Williams, Senior Vice President Global Health Pharma at GSK said, “Genetic diversity is greater in Africa than in any other continental population resulting in some African patients having varying response to treatments. We are excited to launch Project Africa GRADIENT which aims to catalyse the best science in the continent to optimize treatment responses for malaria and tuberculosis, two infectious diseases that disproportionately affect African populations.”

Lutz Hegemann, M.D., Chief Operating Officer for Global Health at Novartis said, “Our efforts include seeking innovative ways to improve the standard of care where possible. This is why we are excited by this important collaboration on scientific research on genetic diversity in Africa. It has the potential to improve the efficacy and tolerability of current and future medicines, starting with two of the most deadly diseases, malaria and tuberculosis. In alignment with our ongoing efforts to strengthen scientific capabilities in lower-resource settings, this project also provides opportunities for training young African scientists in the use of advanced research methodologies and mentoring on drug development.”

As a first step, researchers based at universities, science councils and other public research organizations across Africa are invited to express their ‘intent to submit’ by March 1, 2021 through the SAMRC website (https://bit.ly/3bS43es). Final award recipients are expected to be announced by end of 2021.

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