To Promote HIV Research in Africa, NIH Awards UB Pharmacology Lab $2.3 Million

UB lab now plays a key role in training HIV/AIDS pharmaceutical scientists in resource-limited countries

Release Date: November 8, 2010

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UB's efforts, led by Gene Morse, to enhance the training of pharmaceutical scientists working with HIV/AIDS in Africa, have received more than $2 million in new NIH funding.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – For more than 10 years, the University at Buffalo's HIV Clinical Pharmacology Research Program has helped fight the global AIDS epidemic by hosting visiting pharmaceutical scientists from countries like Zimbabwe and Nigeria in order to teach them how to conduct clinical trials and research on HIV/AIDS.

Now, in recognition of their success and the need to expand these efforts, the National Institutes of Health has awarded a total of $2.3 million to the laboratory, housed in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.

The new grants bring to more than $11 million the funds that the UB HIV Clinical Pharmacology Research program has been awarded since 2008. That year, more than $7 million was awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to initiate at UB the world's only International HIV/AIDS UB Clinical Pharmacology Quality Assurance (CPQA) program, designed to ensure that HIV/AIDS researchers in resource-limited countries conducted high-quality, pharmacology-focused clinical trials.

"This exciting new award represents a research and educational program that is making an impact well beyond Buffalo," says Alexander N. Cartwright, PhD, interim vice president for research at UB. "It is an excellent example of the important programs that are being developed and delivered by researchers in UB's NYS Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences."

With the new funding, the UB researchers -- led by Gene D. Morse, PharmD, professor in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and associate director of UB's Center of Excellence -- will be able to intensify efforts to train in-country laboratory specialists where HIV/AIDS infection rates are highest globally, test their bioanalytical proficiency and conduct quality control analysis of HIV/AIDS clinical trials and their pharmacology-focused research studies.

So far, UB has brought to Buffalo seven HIV/AIDS pharmaceutical and clinical scientists from African nations, for visits lasting several months. In addition to their pharmacology training in the UB lab, these scientists also benefited by participating in the HIV Adherence Pharmacology program at the Erie County Medical Center, the Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo and the Western New York AIDS Community Services Center.

Many more scientists with HIV/AIDS training still are needed, Morse says. The World Health Organization estimates that of the more than 33 million people currently living with AIDS, more than 60 per cent live in Africa.

"Through our relationship with the University of Zimbabwe, and our UB-UZ International Training Program, we have established a highly successful HIV/AIDS pharmacology program that is becoming a center of excellence in the region," says Morse.

Its success has led universities in adjacent countries to contact UB officials, asking how they, too, might establish such programs.

"There is a very substantial desire on the part of HIV pharmaceutical scientists in Africa to obtain more specialized training," Morse continues. "While we would like to have many visit Buffalo, we are planning to transition to regional Centers of Excellence in Africa that can accelerate the rate of training while UB remains the coordinating center."

Treating HIV/AIDS patients in Africa is far more complicated than simply providing them with anti-retroviral medications, according to Morse. Pharmacological issues specific to individual patients need to be addressed, including maternal-fetal transmission, resistance, dietary factors, use of traditional and herbal medicines and co-infection with hepatitis B, tuberculosis and malaria.

The new funding includes $1.75 million from NIH to establish the global pharmacology quality assurance program led by UB, with participation from laboratories at the University of North Carolina, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, the University of Zimbabwe and South Africa's Cape Town University.

It includes $240,557 from the NIH AIDS Clinical Trials Group for the UB HIV Pharmacology Specialty Laboratory, a New York State-certified laboratory, to purchase new analytical instrumentation for HIV research projects. It also includes $300,000 for continued work on a drug interactions database that allows HIV researchers from around the world to access the most recent drug interactions research findings so that they can be included in new treatment protocols to promote patient safety in developing countries.

These and related UB initiatives were highlighted at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria, this past summer, when Morse chaired a session that focused on developing global pharmacology research capacity to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic along with the common co-infections of tuberculosis and malaria.

Presentations also were given by Charles Maponga, PharmD, of the University of Zimbabwe Department of Pharmacy and a UB visiting pharmaceutical scientist, James Hakim, MD, professor of medicine at UZ's College of Health Sciences, Fatai Fehintola, MD, professor of medicine and pharmacology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, who completed an NIH-sponsored training program at UB; Kim Scarsi, PharmD., associate professor, Northwestern University and Robin DiFrancesco, quality assurance program manager at UB.

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