South African Drug Discovery: Global health and postcolonial science

Anne Pollock, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology and Culture, Georgia Tech, USA

Co-presented with the Biopolitics of Science Network and the Race and Ethnicity in the Global South laureate program.

8 August

Pharmaceuticals have long travelled the globe, but pharmaceutical knowledge-making has been concentrated in just a few places. Relatedly, Africa has long been an obvious place for thinking about global health, but it has rarely been considered as a site of global science. What if Africa were to become a place of not just raw materials and end users, but of the science of pharmaceutical knowledge-making? This talk draws on ethnographic research at iThemba Pharmaceuticals, a small South African startup pharmaceutical company with an elite international scientific board, which was founded with the mission of drug discovery for TB, HIV, and malaria. This particular place provides an entry point for exploring how the location of the scientific knowledge component of pharmaceuticals – rather than their production, licensing, or distribution – matters. Consideration of this case illuminates the limitations of global health frameworks that implicitly posit the global north as the unique site of knowledge production, and thus as the source of unidirectional knowledge flows from north to south. It also provides a concrete example for consideration of the contexts and practices of postcolonial science, its constraints and its promise.

Anne Pollock

Anne Pollock is an Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Culture in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech. Pollock’s research focuses on biomedicine and culture. She is particularly interested in how medical categories and technologies are enrolled in telling stories about identity and difference, especially with regard to race, gender, and citizenship. Her new book, Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference, tracks the intersecting discourses of race, pharmaceuticals, and cardiovascular disease in the United States from the founding of cardiology to the controversial approval of BiDil for heart failure in “self-identified black patients.” She is also engaged in ongoing projects in three areas: feminism and heart disease; American health disparities and citizenship claims; and drug discovery efforts by and for the Global South (specifically South Africa).