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Pharmacogenomic Research in South Africa: Lessons Learned and Future Opportunities in the Rainbow Nation

[ Vol. 9 , Issue. 3 ]


Louise Warnich, Britt I. Drogemoller, Michael S. Pepper, Collet Dandara and Galen E.B. Wright   Pages 191 - 207 ( 17 )


South Africa, like many other developing countries, stands to benefit from novel diagnostics and drugs developed by pharmacogenomics guidance due to high prevalence of disease burden in the region. This includes both communicable (e.g., HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis) and non-communicable (e.g., diabetes and cardiovascular) diseases. For example, although only 0.7% of the worlds population lives in South Africa, the country carries 17% of the global HIV/AIDS burden and 5% of the global tuberculosis burden. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has coined the term Rainbow Nation, referring to a land of wealth in its many diverse peoples and cultures. It is now timely and necessary to reflect on how best to approach new genomics biotechnologies in a manner that carefully considers the public health needs and extant disease burden in the region. The aim of this paper is to document and review the advances in pharmacogenomics in South Africa and importantly, to evaluate the direction that future research should take. Previous research has shown that the populations in South Africa exhibit unique allele frequencies and novel genetic variation in pharmacogenetically relevant genes, often differing from other African and global populations. The high level of genetic diversity, low linkage disequilibrium and the presence of rare variants in these populations question the feasibility of the use of current commercially available genotyping platforms, and may partially account for genotypephenotype discordance observed in past studies. However, the employment of high throughput technologies for genomic research, within the context of large clinical trials, combined with interdisciplinary studies and appropriate regulatory guidelines, should aid in acceleration of pharmacogenomic discoveries in high priority therapeutic areas in South Africa. Finally, we suggest that projects such as the H3Africa Initiative, the SAHGP and PGENI should play an integral role in the coordination of genomic research in South Africa, but also other African countries, by providing infrastructure and capital to local researchers, as well as providing aid in addressing the computational and statistical bottlenecks encountered at present.


Disease burden, ELSI, genomic technologies, global health, personalized medicine, pharmacogenomics, population genetic diversity, South Africa


Department of Genetics, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602, South Africa.

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