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One year on – Novartis, DST and SAMRC MoU builds scientific capability in South Africa
  • Novartis Global CEO, Vasant (Vas) Narasimhan, M.D. visits SA, reflecting commitment to skills development and journey on SA as innovation hub 
  • MoU reveals significant scientific potential in SA 

One year after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Novartis, the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Novartis reports that the collaboration is revealing significant latent potential for scientific discovery in South Africa.

Speaking during his first visit to Ghana, Kenya and South Africa in his new role, Novartis Global CEO Vasant (Vas) Narasimhan said the MoU had formalised Novartis’ ongoing investment in developing South African research capabilities, scientific cooperation and collaboration for capacity building and innovation. It also aimed to establish a framework for potential cooperation on joint research programmes in selected communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Novartis noted ahead of the signing that South Africa had the power to deliver more effective R&D. “There is a low volume of clinical research in Africa, with only 2% of global clinical trials taking place on the continent and only 1.2% excluding those conducted in South Africa and Egypt. But South Africa has the capability and capacity to become a research and innovation hub for Africa,” said Dr Thomas Kowallik, CEO and Country President, Novartis South Africa. He noted that increasing clinical research skills had the potential for multiple positive knock-on effects to strengthen local healthcare systems, while innovation would attract further investment with positive outcomes for the economy and job creation.

As a global leader in R&D employing 23,000 scientists worldwide and investing US$9 billion in R&D every year, Novartis invests in scientific capability development as part of an integrated strategy to strengthen healthcare systems in middle/lower middle income countries. Novartis expects this ongoing collaboration with the DST and SAMRC to build capability and potentially lead to breakthrough innovations stemming from South Africa.

A year after the signing of the three-year agreement, there were already signs that the goals of the MoU would be met, said Narasimhan. Novartis has since increased representation from disadvantaged universities in the Next Generation Scientist programme, healthcare provider workshops have been launched, 28 clinical trials at 163 sites are underway, and 29 emerging researchers from South Africa, Swaziland and Mauritius were also given a two-day in-depth workshop on effective grant-writing, to support their efforts to secure research grants.

As part of the skills building cooperation, over 80 doctors have been trained in research and publication skills as well as 120 scientists who were trained in Good Clinical Practice (GCP). There also has been technical assistance and scientific exchange at universities such as the University of Cape Town on key technology platforms.

“A key learning to date has been that previous efforts to build capacity have tended to focus on well-recognised academic facilities. In partnership with the DST and SAMRC, we have now been able to identify candidates and programmes in under-resourced facilities, where excellent work deserving of our support is being carried out. It has been encouraging to see the scope of research being taken in under-resourced facilities, and it has been gratifying for us being able to contribute to building capability and supporting these facilities,” said Narasimhan.

Narasimhan noted that Novartis supports the government’s research agenda and is committed to further partnering with government and academic institutions across southern Africa. “Novartis aims to support the creation of a hub for scientific research in south and southern Africa; helping both to advance skills in this space and to increasing the availability of local clinical data relevant to the African continent.”

Narasimhan said: “South Africa clearly has the necessary talent and medical research potential. If more private sector stakeholders engaged in public-private partnerships such as our MoU, significant research and development capability could be developed in South Africa.”

Novartis South Africa, with three divisions across Innovative Medicines (Pharma and Oncology), Sandoz and Alcon, has been active in South Africa for over 70 years, and within that time has developed a strong clinical trial footprint in the country.


About Novartis

Novartis provides innovative healthcare solutions that address the evolving needs of patients and societies. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis offers a diversified portfolio to best meet these needs: innovative medicines, cost-saving generic and biosimilar pharmaceuticals and eye care. Novartis has leading positions globally in each of these areas. In 2016, the Group achieved net sales of USD 48.5 billion, while R&D throughout the Group amounted to approximately USD 9.0 billion. Novartis Group companies employ approximately 119,000 full-time-equivalent associates. Novartis products are sold in approximately 155 countries around the world. For more information, please visit http://www.novartis.com.

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