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KNUSTAlumnus makes Cancer Breakthrough

A Ghanaian pharmacist based in China, Dr Peter Atadja, has taken a giant and graceful step into the hall of fame of global scientists with his discovery as a breakthrough in the scientific world. The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) trained pharmacist, led a team of researchers from the Novartis Institute for Biochemical Research (NIBR), NJ, to discover the cancer drug, whose generic name, PANOBINOSTAT (LBH589), has been approved by the world Health Organisation (WHO). The achievement came after 13 years of painstaking research and decades of a strong commitment and desire to excel in the world of science.

When he accepted to grant an interview request from the Daily Graphic via e-mail from his China base where he serves as the Head of Drug Discovery and Development of the NIBR, he said, “I am doing this not to draw attention to myself but rather to serve as an inspiration to the younger ones that, they can also do it and demonstrate that no one knows what a GHC 14.40 CMB scholarship per year for a village boy like me can achieve in the long run for Ghana and for humanity”. A PhD holder (Molecular Onocology) from the University of Calgary, Canada, Dr Atadja is an accomplished world-class scientist, having chalked up enormous success in drug discovery and development over the years, and yet his name back home until his latest discovery.

His intellectual acumen were nourished at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, where he obtained his MSc degree ( cum laude in Pharmaceutical/Medicinal Chemistry). Indeed, his Msc thesis was adjudged the best by the university in 1991, earning him the Michael Sherwood Prize, which came with a $1,500 cash prize and a certificate. Currently, the cancer drug discovered by Dr Atadja is being tested in clinical trials in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia and, according to Dr Atadja, “It is demonstrating outstanding efficacy, especially in patients with Lymphomas and other blood cancers, many of whom are having complete remissions”.

Although research work is still ongoing, pre-clinical testing of the drug is said to be leading to very promising possibilities that its efficacy and that of others like it will go beyond the healing of cancer to neuro-degenerative diseases, muscle diseases, some aspects of cardiac hypertrophy and malaria. The drug has also demonstrated even better efficacy in large number of tumour types, including various forms of leukaemia, lymphoma, breast, lung, stomach and colon cancers, either by itself or in combination with other standard therapies.

Dr Atadja said many of the clinical results were presented at the world’s premier conference on blood cancers organized by the American Association of Haematology (ASH) last December, adding that even more outstanding results would be presented in several sessions of other prestigious cancer gatherings in Chicago this month, under the auspices of the Anerican Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Cancer is a major problem for humanity. It is very debilitating disease which carries with it a lot of pain and suffering, with a survival rate of up to three years after diagnosis.

The survival rate in developing countries is even more precarious because, unlike in the Western and developed world where patients have access to newly developed drugs which tend to increase survival, the developing world is left, at best, to either chemotherapy.