Start main page content

African Academy of Sciences awards Wits pharmacist for scientific discovery and innovation

- Wits University

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) named Wits Professor Choonara winner of its Olusegun Obasanjo Prize for Scientific Discovery and Technological Innovation.

The prize is the highest honour conferred by the AAS to honour exceptional African scientists.

Prof Yahya Choonara

Professor Yahya Choonara, the Co-Founder and Director of the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform (WADDP) research unit, was selected as the winner from more than 200 applicants who exemplify international leadership and nurturing the spirit of scientific innovation on the African continent.

Choonara’s research continues to be at the forefront of producing advanced lifesaving 21st Century medicines influencing global health, be it for infectious, hereditary, or lifestyle diseases.

The WADDP is a flagship research unit of Wits University and Africa’s largest in the pharmaceutical sciences. It is Africa’s first and only integrated pharmaceutical advanced drug delivery, nanomedicine and bioengineering (regenerative medicine) research unit.

Choonara says, “Many newly-discovered drug molecules – for example, aimed at treating infectious diseases that disproportionately affect Africa – fail to reach patients due to the absence of an appropriate drug delivery system. Our research at the WADDP closes this crucial gap and contributes to the global pipeline of newly discovered drug molecules by successfully translating them into clinically meaningful, life-saving medicines, using innovative drug delivery formulations and nanomedicine designed in our labs at Wits.”

The WADDP team of pharmacists, clinicians, chemists, and expert pharmaceutical scientists work within world-class pharmaceutical laboratories across Africa due to the many public-academic-private partnerships that Choonara established.

As a researcher, Choonara is an author of more than 336 ISI-accredited international publications in the field with more than 10 500 citations (H-index=51) to his work. As a pharmacist and leading pharmaceutical scientist, he holds the largest pharmaceutical patent portfolio in Africa, focused on:

  • treating infectious diseases
  • advancing therapeutics for oncology
  • designing drug-eluting [wash out or extract] devices
  • smart 3D-bioprinted drug delivery systems
  • neuro-therapeutics, and
  • bio-inspired tissue engineered scaffolds for wound healing and neuro-trauma interventions including spinal cord and peripheral nerve injury.

In addition to his innovative scientific endeavours, Choonara is passionate about developing the much-needed human capacity to industrialize the innovative pharmaceutical industry in Africa.

“Pharmaceutical R&D is important to ensure sustainable healthcare, but this comes with huge challenges for low-and middle-income countries [LMICs], mainly due to the urgent need to train more pharmaceutical scientists on the continent,” says Choonara.

To mitigate these challenges, Choonara leads a distinguished Human Capital Development (HCD), mentorship and pharmaceutical science career development programme that is pivotally linked to the R&D activities of the WADDP. The programme is informed by a needs-based approach to pharmaceutical science training in Africa.

Over the past 16 years, the WADDP has produced more than 110 graduates across the continent. Many have subsequently developed their own careers in science, are the recipients of prestigious awards, are established pharmaceutical scientists, research chairs in nanomedicine or other therapeutic domains, are advancing drug product development for industry, and remain advocates for world-class pharmaceutical science research by shaping policy or ensuring there is always a global voice for emerging pharmaceutical scientists from Africa.