The discovery of life-saving drugs is a complex and time-consuming process that involves a wide range of scientific disciplines and requires highly skilled experts in these disciplines.

Although Ghana is home to some of the world’s most talented and accomplished drug discovery researchers, the country’s drug discovery process is still in its infancy.

With conscious and concerted efforts geared towards creating a thriving pharmaceutical industry, Ghana could become the pharmaceutical hub of Africa. This would reduce the mortality rate resulting from the expensive nature of imported drugs as well as generating revenue for the country.

Over the years, Ghanaian researchers have made significant strides in isolating numerous bioactive compounds from indigenous plants with life-saving potentials. Regrettably, many of these promising compounds have not made it past the experimental stage and are either collecting dust on library shelves or published in obscure online journals or at best, only reported in reputable scientific journals.

In contrast, developed countries have prioritized their drug discovery efforts to ensure that potential drugs progress to advanced stages of clinical trials, which could eventually become approved components of therapeutics for human use.

The same cannot be said about drug discovery processes in Ghana. The stakeholders are not intentional with their efforts. What is certain is that Ghana does not lack experts. In fact, Ghana can be proud of the expertise of its scientists, who include some of the world’s best drug discovery researchers, many of whom are either based in Ghana or in world-renowned research institutions across the globe.

It is, however, not too late to restructure our Ghana drug discovery story. We can begin by creating a Ghanaian-owned national bioactive compound database to archive all the active compounds isolated from the country, which would be available online for anyone to access.

This national database could keep track of every compound isolated in the country and be harnessed for preliminary drug discovery purposes. With this national database, policymakers could be approached and convinced to scale up drug development efforts, using it as a starting point for our national drug discovery journey.

Also, there need to be an intercourse between existing pharmaceutical companies and research centers (universities). The pharmaceutical industry in Ghana tends to be detached from universities, thus there is little to no collaboration between them.

If they could work together, millions of active compounds discovered in our research could be our new gold. Again, the government through the appropriate institutions should consciously formulate a national drug development plan.

As part of this plan, funds should be allocated for the establishment of research labs focused on drug discovery and development. Thus every year, a portion of the national budget should be earmarked for drug development research.

An expert team of Ghanaians, both home and abroad, should be assembled to coordinate drug development research activities in the country and report directly to the President and the Council of State.

Ghana has some of the best universities on the continent, and it’s important that these institutions invest in drug discovery research by employing the right intellectual minds.

Independent efforts to advance drug development research should also be consolidated and coordinated with existing key players in the Ghanaian drug discovery space and should be part of the key drivers of this national agenda.

Thus, efforts of existing research platforms such as CSIR, WACBIP at the University of Ghana, KCCR at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), University of Cape Coast, Centre for Plant Medicine Research in Mampong, Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research (NMIMR); Kumasi; University of Cape Coast (UCC), Cape Coast; and the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) must be consolidated and coordinated towards a nationalistic research agenda.

In conclusion, Ghana has immense potential to become a leader in drug discovery research. With a vast array of medicinal plants, a pool of talented scientists, and a growing interest in the field, Ghana could be the go-to for drug discovery in Sub-Saharan Africa.

By investing in drug development research and creating a dedicated team to coordinate efforts, Ghana could thus tap into the enormous potential of “pharma-money” and also make significant contributions to global health.

It’s therefore time for Ghana to take deliberate and intentional ownership of its drug discovery process and pave the way for a brighter future in pharmaceutical research.

Dr. Clement Agoni is a Marie Sklodowski Curie Career-Fit Plus Research Fellow at the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, University College Dublin, Ireland. He is also an Honorary Research fellow at the College of Health sciences, University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. His research focuses on computer-aided drug discovery, structural bioinformatics and molecular modelling.

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