Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor has welcomed the agreement signed between South Africa and Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceuticals company.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Thursday, 25th May between Novartis, the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in Cape Town.

The department said the MoU will be implemented within the framework of the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP).

Minister Pandor said the agreement would boost the volume and quality of clinical trials and build research capability on the continent.

SHIP is the department’s project implemented by the MRC to coordinate the development of new or adapt existing drugs, vaccines and other biologicals, diagnostics and medical devices for priority diseases or medical conditions in South Africa.

According to the DST, the agreement will allow for joint research programmes in selected communicable and non-communicable diseases, improve South African patients’ access to innovative medicines, and build the country and continent’s research and development capabilities.

Minister Pandor said new and cost-effective solutions are required to address pressing health issues.

“South Africa has a significant burden of disease, which has a major impact on mortality and health sector spending. The quadruple burden of HIV, TB, non-communicable diseases and injuries must be addressed to improve the health of our society,” said the Minister at the signing of the agreement.

The Minister said international cooperation such the partnership with Novartis has been a consistently important aspect of national research and innovation programmes and strategies.

Dr Thomas Kowallik, Novartis South Africa CEO and Country President, said the company had made significant investments in Research and Development (R&D) in the South African healthcare and pharmaceutical space in recent years and was firmly committed to continue doing so.

“As a global leader in R&D, employing 20 000 scientists worldwide and investing US$9 million in R&D every year, this ongoing collaboration has the potential to lead to breakthrough innovations stemming from South Africa.

“Innovation will attract further investment with positive outcomes for the economy. We live in an era of innovation with a lot of opportunities, jobs and breakthroughs based on science and R&D. We as Novartis view South Africa as an ideal location for conducting such activities,” said Kowallik.

South African MRC Vice President Professor Jeffrey Mphahlele also welcomed the partnership.

“We are delighted to be in this partnership. Collaboration is the only way to boost R&D in the country and to assist in building our research capacity.

“Public-private partnerships like this are catalysts that enhance our scientific research and innovation capabilities. These partnerships are visionary and aim to change lives in the present and future,” said Mphahlele.