Merck has signed an agreement with South Africa’s University of Cape Town (UCT) to jointly develop a new research and development (R&D) platform for the discovery of new lead programmes for potential malaria treatments.

The parties have collaborated in Africa in a fight against infectious diseases.

As part of the deal, Merck’s R&D expertise and the drug discovery capabilities of the UCT Drug Discovery and Development Centre, H3D, will be combined to conduct drug discovery research to develop anti-malarial drug candidates using Merck’s compound library.

Merck biopharmaceutical business Global Health R&D Malaria and Diagnostics head Beatrice Greco said: "This strategic collaboration shows the commitment of Merck to provide access to medicines for underserved populations, while creating a potential long-term alliance for generating new drugs to treat infectious diseases.

"This strategic collaboration creates a potential long-term alliance for generating new drugs to treat infectious diseases."

"UCT’s H3D is a centre of excellence for research and innovation with an already strong track record in malaria drug discovery, we are honoured to be entering into a collaboration with this renowned institution."

Merck’s global health R&D group is currently working to address key unmet medical needs related to infectious diseases, such as schistosomiasis and malaria, with a focus on paediatric populations in developing countries.

The company’s approach is based on public-private partnerships (PPPs) and collaborations with leading global health institutions and organisations in both developed and developing countries.

H3D centre director professor Kelly Chibale said: "The vision of H3D is to be the leading organisation for integrated drug discovery and development on the African continent. Working with partners like Merck is critical to build up a comprehensive pipeline to tackle malaria and related infectious diseases.

"We look forward to working with the Merck team to set up a solid drug discovery platform, with an initial focus on malaria."

Within the scope of its responsible corporate governance, Merck is committed to improving access to health for underserved populations in low-and middle-income countries.