SOUTH AFRICA—The University of Pretoria (UP), in conjunction with Steve Biko Academic Hospital, has opened the Nuclear Medicine Research Infrastructure (NuMeRI) facility in Pretoria.

NuMeRI now becomes the first facility of its kind in Africa, with a cyclotron for isotope production in radiation therapy, according to Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation Blade Nzimande.

Situated next to Steve Biko Academic Hospital, NuMeRI is poised to advance drug development, clinical research, and provide cutting-edge diagnostics and treatments for cancer, tuberculosis (TB), and other major public health diseases.

The facility will consolidate expertise in nuclear technologies in medicine and biosciences, foster significant research, development, and innovation capacity in South Africa, and will assist in the treatment of various diseases.

Under this arrangement, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) will work with the EU to build South Africa’s first Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR), and the University of Pretoria (UP) and Steve Biko Academic Hospital will collaborate to manage this facility.

The UP-Health Faculty, iThemba Labs, and the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) are major partners in this initiative, which has garnered praise from the global community.

Furthermore, UP received an additional R85 million (US$4.622 million) for the NuMeRI building.

The first phase of NuMeRI, hosted at Necsa for three years, was made possible by an investment of nearly R150million (US$ 8.156million) between 2016 and 2019.

The second phase of implementation at Steve Biko Academic Hospital began in the 2020/21 financial year, with approximately R 390million (US$21.206 million) invested since 2020 by the DSI.

Additionally, NuMeRI’s capabilities will contribute to the precision-medicine approach and targeted personalized therapies being developed in South Africa.

NuMeRI will function as a one-stop-shop medical imaging facility dedicated to drug development and imaging-based clinical research, accessible to all researchers who will benefit from imaging in their product development.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Hon Nzimande, highlighted that this world-class facility is a product of South Africa’s long-standing cooperation with the European Union (EU), dating back to 2012.

He emphasized the importance of mobilizing innovation and technology to address the disease burden and provide quality healthcare to all South Africans, a key priority of the department’s Decadal Plan on Science, Technology, and Innovation.

Nuclear medicine utilizes small amounts of radioactive material combined with a carrier molecule in the body to see how organs or tissues are functioning, thereby diagnosing diseases more easily.

 It then selectively targets and treats the diseased area in the body with molecular precision, sparing healthy adjacent cells.

“It will assist in taking bio-innovations further down the value chain from radiolabelling to preclinical testing. It will also contribute to good manufacturing practices and clinical trials,” Nzimande explained.

According to Nzimande, it is anticipated that this infrastructure will triple the current clinical PhDs and increase basic science PhDs six-fold.

To date, 20 master’s and 15 PhD students have completed their studies, with a further 17 master’s and 22 PhD students currently finishing their studies.

NuMeRI’s research activities will advance the objectives and priorities of the National Department of Health, strengthening nuclear-medicine capacity in South Africa and beyond.

It will enhance South African research in medicinal chemistry, expedite the development of drugs to address national priority diseases such as cancer and TB, enable new pharmaceuticals to reach the market sooner, and give South African pharmaceutical development a competitive edge globally.

The research will primarily focus on oncology and cover other communicable and non-communicable diseases.

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