Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor. Picture: GCIS
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor. Picture: GCIS

Swiss drug manufacturer Novartis has signed a memorandum of agreement with the South African Medical Research Council and the department of science and technology that paves the way for the company to increase its investments in local medical research.

Basel-headquartered Novartis is one of the world’s biggest multinational pharmaceutical companies. In addition to its innovative drug business, it owns generic drug maker Sandoz and eye care unit Alcon.

The agreement commits the parties to exploring the scope for collaborating in research along the entire drug development value chain, improving the scope for local patients to get personally tailored drug treatment, and building local research and development capacity.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said building local research capacity was critical to ensure studies were undertaken to meet the needs of South Africans and create career opportunities for scientists.

“We are tired of exporting our best,” she said.

SA’s activities within the drug development value chain were fragmented, underfunded, and had limited capacity to attract and retain key skills, she said. “There is a lack of continuity with respect to long-term funding ... and there remain significant gaps in areas of scientific development,” she said.

Novartis’ CEO for SA, Thomas Kowallik, said the company aimed to build on the existing research relationships it had with institutions such as the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University. It already offers students from developing countries, including SA, opportunities to train at its research sites across the world, and has worked closely with UCT on its malaria drug development programme.

Kowallik said Novartis had 20,000 researchers worldwide, and had invested in research hubs in Hyderabad, India and Shanghai, China, he said.

“Our vision is to contribute to making Africa the next hub,” he said.

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