Geary's program, developed in close concert with colleague Dr. Eliane Ubalijoro of McGill's Centre for Developing-Area Studies, replaces high-technology screening apparatus with genetically engineered yeast strains and E. coli bacteria. These organisms have been modified to produce proteins normally only found in parasitic worms, making them an ideal laboratory test-bed for potential antiparasitic drugs.
"The very survival of the microbe is dependent on the function of the parasite protein," Geary explained. "So if a drug is working, it will affect the growth of the organism. This is easy to monitor, because these organisms are extremely well understood. It's a very robust system.
"This way, instead of shipping the chemicals to the high-throughput, mechanism-based screening processes that drive the pharmaceutical industry, we bring the process to the chemicals. Africans will do the research and own the intellectual property. This creates sustainability: if you can license the products of your screening, you have a revenue stream."
In the longer term, Geary hopes to assemble chemical collections from various researchers across Africa.
"We are guessing that we need to get around 50,000 novel chemicals that might be of interest to western pharmaceutical companies," he said. "My belief, coming from the industry, is that if you provide this resource at a reasonable cost, they will subscribe to it.
"The other goal, that's very important, is that Africans should be leading this program in the very short term, two to three years. I hope to make myself irrelevant."
|Contact: Mark Shainblum|