Dr. Valerie Mizrahi knows what it’s like to bridge two worlds.
A Zimbabwean native, she trained in South Africa, but spent six years working in leading pharmaceutical companies and universities in the United States. An experienced chemist, she switched to biology when she became interested in mycobacterial genetics and HIV enzymology. After making a conscious decision to embark on TB research, Dr. Mizrahi is back in South Africa as the Director of the Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit overseeing early TB drug discovery efforts. The sum of her experiences has made her zealous about the R&D imperative in developing countries like South Africa.
"Excellent R&D can be done and is being done in the developing world," says Dr. Mizrahi. "Since we face scarce resources and formidable challenges, we must reinforce the scientific efforts in the developing world. The returns are great. It will benefit all of global R&D – including that for new TB drug development."
This cause has shaped her approach and her own scientific choices. She notes that the goal of new TB drugs marries her intellectual fascination with mycobacterial metabolism to her strong social commitment to work on a health issue with local and global significance. She sees the task of her laboratory as early target validation for novel TB drug targets.
“We – North and South, rich and poor, advanced and less developed – need to view ourselves as being in this together, as partners. In this way, we can ensure that from the start, there is joint ownership of both the problem and its solution.”
Her own collaborations demonstrate this philosophy. With fellow South African researcher Dr. Helena Boshoff and Dr. Clif Barry of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, she recently identified a DNA polymerase that could explain TB’s ability to become drug-resistant. Dr. Mizrahi is one of many scientists intent to uncover TB’s mysteries in the search for a faster cure.
H I M Boshoff et al. DnaE2-mediated inducible mutagenesis plays a role in in vivo persistence and the emergence of drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Cell 113(2): 183-93 (2003).