Inaugural Lecture Portrays Personal Journey in the Field of Drug Discovery
NRF A-rated Scientist, Professor Fernando Albericio, says health is possibly one of the most ‘magical’ words associated with the development of the human being.
Albericio, a Research Professor in the School oAf Chemistry and Physics, was delivering his inaugural lecture at the Graduate School of Business and Leadership on the Westville campus into the UKZN professoriate.
‘From the most ancient societies to the present, restoring or improving social health and wellbeing has been a major pursuit,’ said Albericio. ‘Although the use of traditional medicines, based mainly on the use of natural products treated with simple manipulations, continues to be common in some communities worldwide for the treatment of diseases, the last century has witnessed the birth of the pharmaceutical industry.’
Albericio argued that the pharmaceutical industry was perhaps one of the most intriguing sectors of industry. ‘Large investments are required,’ he explained. ‘The full cost involved in launching a new drug in the market is about US$ 1 billion. And even taking into account these investments, only a few drugs reach the market every year, for example, only 22 in 2016.’
In his lecture, Albericio posed the question of what role academia should play in the field of drug development, and in society as a whole, and attempted to provide some answers based on a lifetime of personal experience. Albericio is deeply involved in the development of what he calls ‘the third mission of the University’, namely, the transference of knowledge and technology to society.
‘I consider myself as a representative of the “New University”, which allows me to combine teaching and research with a strong vocation for the transfer of knowledge from such research to society. I think I perform basic research, but with a goal to become transformative,’ he said.
Albericio joined UKZN in 2016 as a research professor after an international career in academia and industry. He was a Full Professor at the University of Barcelona, where he received his PhD in Chemistry in 1981; a Principal Investigator at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine-Barcelona; founded several biotech companies and sits on the Board of Directors of several foundations and companies.
He is a member of the Steering Committee of UKZN’s Science and Technology Innovation Park (STIP) and is also international co-ordinator of two networks: RedEmprendia and AfricaEmprende, which aim to extend academic entrepreneurship to Iberoamerica and Africa.
Albericio’s major research interests cover practically all aspects of peptide synthesis and combinatorial chemistry methodologies as well as synthesis of peptides and small molecules with therapeutic activities, mainly in the field of cancer and infectious diseases. His research group is involved in the development of new strategies for drug delivery and for diagnostics. In collaboration with UKZN Health Sciences academics, he is developing a new family of peptides with antimicrobial and anti-tuberculosis properties.
‘I think that UKZN is a perfect place to carry out interdisciplinary research, due to the quality of students, researchers, and technological instrumentation,’ said Albericio. ‘During all these years, first collaborating, and then being part of the team, my experiences at UKZN have been extremely positive.’
Albericio is passionately enthusiastic about his students and explained that his goal was ‘to work even harder towards contributing to increase the quality of research at UKZN, trying always to educate the next generations of South African scientists who will contribute to the scientific and economic development of South Africa’.
He has supervised 68 PhD students, published over 850 papers, filed more than 55 patents, and has co-authored four books. He is Editor-in-Chief of several scientific journals and on the editorial boards of several others.
Said acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Albert Modi: ‘Professor Fernando Albericio is a chemist of honour.’
Words and photograph by: Sally Frost