The establishment of the Pan African Cancer Research Institute, a centre of excellence dedicated to cutting edge integrated translational cancer research, prevention and clinical care with a vision of accelerating discoveries to prevent and cure cancer in the African region (PACRI) by the University of Pretoria in late 2019, is an acknowledgement that cancer is emerging as a major public health problem globally and in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
PACRI’s vision is “to be a world-class Pan African Cancer Research Institute dedicated to cancer prevention, innovative translational research, precision convergence approaches and developing optimal therapeutic strategies”. PACRI has a strong drive in collaborative transdisciplinary research that addresses cancer health disparities and their impact on underserved and socio-economically disadvantaged populations and is backed by the SDG-based PACRI Strategic Plan 2030 and its Annual Performance Plan (APP) for implementation.
The Founding Director of PACRI, Professor Zodwa Dlamini, was awarded a Directorship for the prestigious SAMRC Precision Oncology Research Unit (PORU) in late 2019. This SAMRC Prestigious Unit, funded by the South African Medical Research Council has provided a very strong financial backing and spotlight for PACRI. The Core research team comprises the Director, Professor Zodwa Dlamini, a Senior Research Officer, Dr Rahaba Marima, two Postdoctoral fellows Dr Rodney Hull and Dr Abdulrahman Elbagory and a Research Assistant-Ms. Demetra Demetriou. Although PACRI is at its infant stages (just below 2 years old), it already has over 11 PhD and 1 MSc student registered within PACRI programs (Population & Prevention Cancer Sciences (PPCS), Clinical Cancer Research (CCR), Translational Cancer Research (TCR), Cancer Immunology, Viral Infection and Inflammation (CIVII), Cancer Health Disparities & Precision Oncology (CHDPO)) and from the Faculty of Health Sciences (Departments of Surgery, Anatomical Pathology, Neurosurgery, Urology, Radiation Oncology, Medical Oncology, Community Dentistry, Maxillo-Facial and Oral Surgery). The current postgraduate student's projects are focusing on various cancers such as breast, cervical, brain, endometrial, prostate, melanoma, oesophageal, oral, head and neck, colorectal cancers. PACRI is governed by the Advisory Board and the PACRI Management Committee (PMC) manages the day to day functions of PACRI. A PACRI Postgraduate Research and Innovation Committee (PPRIC) manages issues of PACRI postgraduates. PACRI International Scientific Advisory Committee (PISAC) provides a strong backing for PACRI’s cutting edge scientific programs. PACRI has over 10 Extraordinary Professors and Lecturers from national and international organisations to strengthen PACRI’s research. From 2020 PACRI has 25 publications in peer-reviewed international journals, and 4 International published conference supplements. One of the publications by Marima et al., (2020) in Oncotarget was featured as a cover for Vol (11) Issue (41)-Where an HIV antiretroviral Efavirenz was shown to have antiproliferative effects against lung cancer cells-Repurposing antimicrobial drugs for cancer treatment’. In showcasing our research, PACRI members and students have obtained Awards and Scholarships in 2020/2021 from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), National Research Foundations (NRF) and Discovery Health. The prestigious American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Global Scholar In Training Award (GSITA) 2021 was awarded to Dr Rahaba Marima. The SAMRC Clinician-Scientist scholarship was also awarded to Dr Thulo Molefi, while the Discovery Health Scholarships were awarded to Dr Sikhumbuzo Mbatha and Dr Meryl Oyomno. PACRI has also facilitated Genomics 101 course for the clinician/scientists, during 2020/2021.
Toward the end of 2019 Professor Dlamini lead a UP delegate which included the Vice-Chancellor to the DKFZ German Cancer Research Institute in Germany which spent about a week identifying areas of partnership with PACRI. The formal partnership agreement was signed in 2021. The University of Nottingham partnership agreement was also signed in 2021. The delegation to the University of Nottingham will be in May 2022. The official signing ceremony (including DKFZ and Nottingham) has been scheduled for the 20ᵗʰ of January 2022 during the PACRI Launch.
International and symposiums highlights: PACRI hosted its first lecture series on 20-Jan-2020 titled ‘The key role of Cancer Centres for improving prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer’ by Prof. David Bates, one of the extraordinary Professors and our Nottingham Partner. The international panel discussion is scheduled for 20ᵗʰ January 2022.
Collaborations: PACRI is collaborating with CPGR (Center for Proteomics and Genetic Research), Cape Town, South Africa; Illumina, San Francisco, USA and Separations, South Africa for the NGS and Bioinformatics which forms PACRI’s Precision Oncology component, which is a major and integral part of PACRI.
Additionally, to internal national partners, PACRI collaborates widely internationally, in the UK, EU, US, Australia-Asia. This strengthens the interdisciplinarity in PACRI’s projects which involves basic scientists, computational biologists, biostatisticians, pathologists, oncologists, surgeons and other clinical researchers.