British pharmaceutical company, GSK, and its Swiss counterpart, Novartis, have announced the launch of their collaboration to support high-quality scientific research in Africa.

The research will mainly investigate the link between genetic diversity across different regions in Africa and its potential impact on response to drug therapeutics.

The Project Africa Genomic Research Approach for Diversity and Optimising Therapeutics (GRADIENT), with a combined funding commitment of Ksh.360 million (USD 3.6 million) over five years, calls on African researchers to submit robust research proposals on the relevance of African genetic diversity to the treatment of malaria and tuberculosis.

Pauline Williams, Senior Vice President Global Health Pharma at GSK said in the announcement, “At GSK, human genetics is a core pillar of our R&D strategy. 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 catalyze the best science in the continent to optimize treatment responses for malaria and tuberculosis, two infectious diseases that disproportionately affect African populations.”

Project Africa GRADIENT comprises three funding mechanisms as listed below.

  1. Fellowships – a limited number of fellowships in academic institutions with a reputation for global excellence to collect and analyze data on determinants of drug response.
  2. Investigator-sponsored research – Hypothesis-driven research focused on understanding genetic regional variation in drug response.
  3. Seed-Fund – a limited number of projects to enable the exploration of new research goals, depending on the results from Fellowships and research.

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, with priority being given to under-represented areas.

Prof. Glenda Gray, SAMRC President and CEO, said, “It is exciting to see more and more global partners taking interest in the challenges of Africa. We are delighted that partners are now seeking to address the challenges of Africa by their quest to understand the fundamental differences between genetics of Africa and the rest of the world.”

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 through the SAMRC website. Final award recipients are expected to be announced by end of 2021.