Life-saving drugs closer to home

They quietly go about bringing change – through the advancement of medicine, empowering students, saving the environment or helping communities. A pioneering group of Nelson Mandela University academics has been honoured at the institution’s Research, Teaching and Engagement Awards. 


  Prof Paul Watts │ Life-saving drugs closer to home 

Nelson Mandela University’s Prof Paul Watts, who holds a chair in microfluidic bio-chemical processing through the South African Research Chairs Initiative
Nelson Mandela University’s Prof Paul Watts, who holds a chair in microfluidic bio-chemical processing through the South African Research Chairs Initiative

Over the past 10 years, South Africa’s health sector has spent R120bn importing advanced pharmaceutical intermediates (APIs), which are essentially the ingredients needed to make generic medicines to treat HIV/Aids and other diseases.

And yet one in five HIV/Aids patients in South Africa goes without this life-saving medication because there is simply not enough to meet the country’s huge demand.

To address this critical shortfall in HIV/Aids and other medication – and save the country billions of rands – Nelson Mandela University’s Prof Paul Watts, who holds a chair in microfluidic bio-chemical processing through the South African Research Chairs Initiative, has researched and developed the technology needed to manufacture the ingredients locally.

The university has partnered with Johannesburg pharmaceutical manufacturer Specpharm and its subsidiary Inicio, with the aim of establishing a large commercial manufacturing plant and is currently awaiting approval from the government for R3bn of Industrial Development Corporation (IDfunding.

“We’re looking specifically at generic Aids, TB and malaria medication. None of the APIs for these medications is made locally, which also makes these drugs incredibly expensive,” said Watts, who has been awarded the university’s prestigious Innovation Excellence Award for his work.

Once the new manufacturing plant went ahead, Watts said, it would create a new industry in the country, along with new jobs.

It would also boost the economy and bring the cost of drugs down.

“Our hope is that more patients would be treated for less money,” he said.

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