UCT spin-off receives millions in European funding

22 December 2020 | Story Niémah Davids. Photo Adobe Stock. Read time 5 min.
Cape Bio Pharms has received a multimillion-rand capital injection to fast-track the production of affordable plant-based rapid diagnostic COVID-19 test kits.
Cape Bio Pharms has received a multimillion-rand capital injection to fast-track the production of affordable plant-based rapid diagnostic COVID-19 test kits.

Cape Bio Pharms, a biotech company with roots in the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Biopharming Research Unit (BRU), has received a multimillion-rand capital injection to fast-track the production of affordable plant-based rapid diagnostic COVID-19 test kits.  

The approximately R900 million grant comes courtesy of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), a global non-profit organisation “accelerating the development, evaluation and delivery of high-quality, affordable diagnostic tests for poverty-related diseases”.

The funding will allow for the construction of a new facility, Cape Biologix Technologies, a subsidiary of Cape Bio Pharms, which will be built in Mauritius. The facility will scale up innovative plant-based manufacturing and commercialise the successful development of plant-based recombinant proteins.

The official announcement and virtual signing took place on Friday, 18 December 2020.

‘Commitment to the poor’

Speaking during the event, UCTʼs vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, said that the Western world is not in the habit of looking to Africa for solutions to global problems. But the investment by the EIB and FIND will change that.

“I am very proud to see my country and my continent recognised in this way by the EIB, which is supporting the ability of African-based research, technology and investment to address the critical health needs we all share,” Professor Phakeng said.

 

“This is also a commitment to the poor around the world who will benefit from this innovation.”

“This is also a commitment to the poor around the world who will benefit from this innovation.”

With the BRU having laid a solid foundation by using the Nicotiana benthamiana in their research for over 20 years, the team of scientists at Cape Bio Pharms have drawn from this body of research and have been hard at work using N. benthamiana plants, a close relative of tobacco, as a bioreactor to produce COVID-19 proteins and antibodies. Scientists are working towards developing components of a serology test for the disease, which detects antibodies in a patient’s blood and can be used to determine if they have been exposed or previously infected by the virus. The test kit will be distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa to help fight the pandemic in developing nations.

Essentially, the plant, which is also used because of its strength and ability to grow quickly, is harnessed at a small factory to produce proteins and antibodies that can later be extracted for use in vaccines and diagnostics. Scientists achieve this by “infecting” the plants with an engineered soil bacterium that transfers DNA to the plants and induces them to produce proteins known as antigens from that genetic information.

Unlocking large-scale production

Belinda Shaw, the chief executive of Cape Bio Pharms, said that effective and affordable testing and vaccinations are critical to tackle COVID-19, HIV and other diseases causing “immense health, social and economic harms to human health” in Africa and across the globe.

“Cape Bio Pharms, the holding company of Cape Biologix, has successfully shown how plant protein can quickly and economically produce proteins essential for disease testing and therapy,” Shaw said.

 

“Today … is a milestone for medical research in Africa and global public health.”

She said that the EIB’s and FIND’s support will unlock large-scale production of COVID-19 tests in Africa, as well as large-scale specialist production to combat HIV and a range of other diseases impacting millions of people around the world.

“Today [18 December] is a milestone for medical research in Africa and global public health,” Shaw said.

The funding will enable Cape Biologix to build a new manufacturing facility, expand laboratory processing and build climate-controlled hydroponic grow rooms in Mauritius to provide plant-made proteins for testing and treatment of COVID-19 and other endemic diseases. 

World-class research

According to Ambroise Fayolle, the vice-president of the EIB, scaling up medical innovation and specialist manufacturing is crucial to control COVID-19 and other treatable diseases for which treatment is not accessible for many African countries.

He said that the investment will bring world-class research from laboratories in Africa to improve the lives of millions of people.

“The EIB, as part of team Europe, is pleased to provide support to Cape Biologix to expand pharmaceutical production, create jobs and increase access to affordable disease testing and treatment across Africa and around the world.”


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.


UCT’s response to COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March and implement a national lockdown from 26 March.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information.

Frequently asked questions

 

Daily updates


Friday, 18 December 11:30, 18 December 2020
Thursday, 19 November 09:30, 19 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 12:40, 13 November 2020
Friday, 16 October 10:05, 16 October 2020
Wednesday, 14 October 12:50, 14 October 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 14:10, 22 September 2020
Friday, 11 September 10:05, 11 September 2020
Monday, 31 August 12:20, 31 August 2020
Wednesday, 12 August 10:20, 12 August 2020
Friday, 7 August 11:24, 7 August 2020
Thursday, 6 August 18:26, 6 August 2020
Monday, 27 July 14:00, 27 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 09:30, 15 July 2020
Monday, 13 July 14:25, 13 July 2020
Monday, 6 July 16:20, 6 July 2020
Thursday, 25 June 10:15, 25 June 2020
Tuesday, 23 June 12:30, 23 June 2020
Thursday, 18 June 17:35, 18 June 2020
Wednesday, 17 June 10:45, 17 June 2020
Tuesday, 2 June 12:20, 2 June 2020
Friday, 29 May 09:25, 29 May 2020
Monday, 25 May 14:00, 25 May 2020
Thursday, 21 May 12:00, 21 May 2020
Wednesday, 6 May 10:00, 6 May 2020
Tuesday, 5 May 17:05, 5 May 2020
Thursday, 30 April 17:10, 30 April 2020
Tuesday, 28 April 10:30, 28 April 2020
Friday, 24 April 09:35, 24 April 2020
Thursday, 23 April 17:00, 23 April 2020
Wednesday, 22 April 14:25, 22 April 2020
Monday, 20 April 17:45, 20 April 2020
Friday, 17 April 12:30, 17 April 2020
Thursday, 16 April 09:45, 16 April 2020
Tuesday, 14 April 11:30, 14 April 2020
Thursday, 9 April 09:00, 9 April 2020
Wednesday, 8 April 15:40, 8 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 15:50, 1 April 2020
Friday, 27 March 11:40, 27 March 2020
Thursday, 26 March 18:30, 26 March 2020
Tuesday, 24 March 15:40, 24 March 2020
Monday, 23 March 15:40, 23 March 2020
Friday, 20 March 16:00, 20 March 2020
Thursday, 19 March 09:15, 19 March 2020
Wednesday, 18 March 16:00, 18 March 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 12:50, 17 March 2020
Monday, 16 March 17:15, 16 March 2020

Campus communications

 
2021


2020

New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020

Resources

Video messages from the Department of Medicine

Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19

The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.


To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.

Useful information from UCT

External resources


News and opinions


Statements and media releases


Media releases



Read more  

Statements from Government



 
 

In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”

 

We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.

 

TOP