This release is available in French.
A McGill University parasitology researcher has received a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation to help establish locally controlled pharmaceutical-research programs in Botswana and South Africa.
"People are always asking why the pharmaceutical industry doesn't do very much work on diseases of the poor, like parasitic infections," said Dr. Timothy Geary, of McGill's Institute of Parasitology. "There's a simple answer: they don't make any money at it, just as road building companies don't build roads for free in Africa. The real solution to the problem is to develop indigenous capacity. There's no reason it shouldn't work, Africans have historically been very good at all kinds of research, for instance, in natural products chemistry."
Geary, McGill's Canada Research Chair in Parasite Biotechnology, is an expert in the area of antiparasitic drugs. He points out that over the last couple of decades, drug companies have largely stopped screening chemicals derived naturally from tropical plants or microbes a major source for antiparasitics for both economic and political reasons.
"Over the last 15 or 20 years there has been tension between the industrialized north and the developing south over this issue," he continued. "There was a sense in the south that people from the north were simply looting this resource. We called it bioprospecting; they called it 'biopiracy,' which caused obvious problems in negotiating access and contracts."
Moreover, said Geary, philanthropic attempts to establish a pharmaceutical research base in Africa often fail because they lack the crucial element of sustainability: Donations of expensive high-tech equipment typically do not take long-term maintenance into account, for example.
"African researchers are just as capable as anyone else of utilizi
|Contact: Mark Shainblum|