In addition to being a leader in his field, Professor Chibale also makes history as the first Editor-in-Chief of an ACS journal from Africa. Learn more about Professor Chibale, his research, and his hopes for the future of ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters.

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ACS Publications announced the next editor in chief of ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters will be Kelly Chibale, Neville Isdell chair in African-centric drug discovery and development, and professor of organic chemistry at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Chibale, now an associate editor with Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, will begin his term on January 1, 2023, replacing Dennis C. Liotta, the inaugural editor in chief of the journal that launched in 2010, who is stepping down at the end of 2022.

Chibale will be the first editor in chief of an ACS journal from Africa. He is also founder and director of the UCT Holistic Drug Discovery and Development Centre, the South Africa research chair in drug discovery at UCT and founding director of the South African Medical Research Council/Drug Discovery and Development Research Unit at UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

Headshot of Professor Kelly Chibale
Professor Kelly Chibale

“Chibale is a pioneer and a leading synthetic organic chemist whose research has largely contributed to the global health drug discovery. We’re thrilled he chose ACS,” said James Milne, president of ACS Publications in a statement. “Aside from numerous awards and honors, including being named one of Fortune magazine’s 2018 world’s 50 greatest leaders, Chibale has been an active ACS member since 1994, underscoring his commitment to ACS and our shared mission.”

Meet Professor Chibale at the University of Bonn

One of Professor Chibale’s first events as ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters editor in chief will be the ACS Publications Symposium on Biological and Medicinal Chemistry in Bonn, Germany, March 6-8, 2023. It’s free to register for the event hosted in partnership with the University of Bonn.

The Symposium will feature three days of in-person talks by leading researchers in biological and medicinal chemistry from EMEA institutions and industry—many of whom, like Chibale, are also editors of high-impact ACS journals. It will also include a poster session and networking sessions with speakers, attendees, and ACS Publications staff.

“Bridging the gap between fundamental basic science and clinical research to advance innovative medicines discovery requires, amongst other things, the integration of chemistry with biology and pharmacology, including drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics studies,” says Chibale. “In my talk I will be describing the establishment of chemistry, biology and pharmacology platforms at our University of Cape Town Holistic Drug Discovery and Development (H3D) Centre and how these platforms have been deployed in drug discovery projects underpinned by medicinal chemistry and chemical biology in mechanism of action deconvolution.

“I am excited about visiting Germany partly because Bonn, which is on the banks of the Rhine River, is a beautiful city and partly because Germany is a global scientific powerhouse with a rich chemistry history. Not so long-ago German was the language of chemistry!”

REGISTER FREE to attend the ACS Publications Symposium on Biological and Medicinal Chemistry!

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An Interview with Professor Kelly Chibale

I connected with Professor Chibale recently to learn more about him, his research, and his hopes for the future of ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. These are the highlights of our conversation.

How would you describe your research to a non-scientist?

My research is two-fold: First is the discovery of future innovative, lifesaving medicines for infectious diseases with attendant studies to understand how the medicines work. Second, is scientifically addressing the issue of health equity from an African perspective.

In this context my research is focused on building (currently non-existent) Africa-specific preclinical discovery phase tools and models to contribute to improving treatment outcomes in people of African heritage. Regarding the latter research area, it is noteworthy that Africa is arguably the most genetically diverse continent. The status quo is such that medicines are not optimized for the African patient population for two main reasons.

First, although Africa accounts for 15% of the global population and 25% of the global disease burden, there is an extremely low volume of clinical trials (2-3% of global total) that take place on the continent. The implications of this are that:

  1. African perspectives on intrinsic factors [such as physiology, genetics, etc.], and extrinsic factors [such as the practice of medicine, when during the stage of a disease (early vs late) that a patient presents for treatment, concomitant medication etc.] are not considered during the clinical drug development stages.
  2. Clinicians and patients in Africa only acquire experience and access to newer therapies much later in time than those who work and live in the more developed nations.

Second, there is absence of preclinical tools—such as hepatocytes and liver microsomes used for drug metabolism studies, which rarely have African populations. Pharmacokinetic variation in African populations due to variable genetic expression and activity of drug metabolizing enzymes and transporters are not well accounted for.

This has implications on human dose prediction for clinical trials, in particular Phase 1 or First-In-Man, studies. Having the Africa-specific preclinical discovery tools will not only facilitate the prioritization of drug candidates during their (chemical) lead optimization phase based on their predicted pharmacological profile in African patients, but generated data will also be useful in stratifying patients for clinical trials.

What element has been most central to your scientific career, and why?

My answer can be summed up in what the French biologist, microbiologist, and chemist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) had to say: “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Science brings me nearer to God.”

Pasteur also said, “little science takes you away from God but more of it takes you to Him.”

What is your vision for ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters moving forward?

I must first hasten to acknowledge the foundational work done by my predecessor and founding editor in chief, Dennis C. Liotta. His vision, leadership, drive, and creativity have brought the journal to its current strong position of being the leading journal in its league, ahead of its direct competitors. So, I will be standing on the shoulders of this giant in Dennis.

My vision is to build on the excellent foundation laid by Dennis and the editorial board, past and present, to build a more globally diverse and inclusive community of the future in terms of geography, race, gender, age, and employment sector, and ensuring that ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters effectively serves this community in the long term.

What types of advances in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery do you hope to see published in the journal over the next decade?

I would like to see increased publications in infectious and neglected tropical disease arenas, medicinal chemistry of vaccine adjuvants and RNA-based therapeutic strategies. I would also like to see medicinal chemistry embracing high molecular weight (non-Lipinski ‘rule of 5’) chemical space and large peptides, biologics and long acting injectables with associated drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics studies. Finally, as precision medicine gains momentum, I would like to see medicinal chemistry integrated with preclinical tools aimed at prioritizing drug candidates based upon their predicted pharmacological profiles in specific patient populations.

When you’re not teaching and doing research—and working as a journal editor or reviewing papers—how do you spend your time? What are your passions outside of medicinal chemistry and your workday?

I spend most of my time outside work with my wife Bertha talking and laughing a lot. We have 3 grown-up sons: Kalaba, Suwilanji, and Sechelanji.

When at the local gym, I love hitting the punching bag with a variety of punches like a boxer in training to defend a world title. Outdoors, I love hiking in forests towards mountains. Being based in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, which is also known as the Mother City but which I like to call The Promised Land, I am surrounded by the incredible Table Mountain, one of the New Seven Wonders of the world. Bertha and I hike every week when we are both in town.

Learn More About Professor Chibale

If you’d like to learn more about Professor Kelly Chibale:

  1. Watch his recent interview with Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) Editor-in-Chief Erick Carreira, part of the JACS in Conversation With…series.
  2. Read his articles published in ACS journals.

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