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Western Cape Business 2022

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SPECIAL FEATURE

SPECIAL FEATURE Bio-pharmaceutical company lands Covid vaccine contract The Western Cape is a centre of medical innovation. Credit: studioMAS The Biovac building in the Cape Town suburb of Ndabeni is wedged between the railway line and Alexandra Road. Contributing to the medical setting are the nearby facilities of Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital and the Valkenburg (psychiatric) Hospital. The bio-pharmaceutical company’s headquarters are themselves a fine piece of architecture (pictured) but the number of prefabricated offices lining the property’s fence suggests that the facility is bursting at the seams. A contract to produce Covid vaccines will make Biovac even busier, but there’s a plan in place to build a new facility, for R2-billion. Biovac is a joint venture between the state and the private sector which started in 2003 and now produces more than 15-million doses of vaccine every year, most of which are in the paediatric category. An agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech to produce their vaccines will see Biovac making 100-million doses of the vaccine on an annual basis in the final phase. The only other manufacturer of Covid vaccines in South Africa is Aspen in Gqeberha, which is making the Johnson & Johnson product. Biovac is looking to international development finance institutions to fund its latest expansion plan as it believes the facility could ultimately produce up to 500-million doses annually, which would open up the African market. Biovac has a host of partnerships with academic institutions and other entities. These include: the University of Cape Town, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), World Health Organization (WHO), Programme for Applied Technologies in Health (PATH), Sanofi Pasteur of France, BioFarma of Indonesia and Pfizer of USA. More than 320 highly-qualified people are employed at Biovac. Innovation Asthma pumps are wonderful things but what if you are too weak to squeeze the pump hard enough to make it work? Enter two UCT Master’s students with a passion for gadgets, Giancarlo Beukes and Gokul Nair. WESTERN CAPE BUSINESS 2022 18

SPECIAL FEATURE They came up with an attachment fitted over the standard inhaler and they called it The Easy Squeezy. Since then, the company that the pair of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering graduates created, Impulse Biomedical, has come up with something the world badly needs, a reusable auto-injector that accepts epinephrine cartridge refills and lasts for five years. They want the long-lasting injector to retail for about R1 000 as opposed to something like seven times as much for a twin-pack of injectors that have a short shelf life. The pair have won several competitions for startups and placed a very creditable second at the Emerging Medical Innovation Competition at the Design of Medical Devices Conference. This earned them a full technical and market evaluation by the Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI), a giant step towards being able to get into the US market where the tough approval standards of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) need to be met. The company is one of several nurtured by UCT’s Medical Devices Lab and Nair and Beukes have had support from Research Contracts and Innovation (RC&I), the university’s office that authorises and negotiates research contracts with funders. Stellenbosch University also promotes the transition of its graduates into the biomedical world. An example is AzarGen Biotechnologies. The company’s website lists two lead therapeutic candidates: a biosimilar version of an anti-cancer monoclonal antibody and a recombinant human surfactant protein targeted for various respiratory disease conditions. AzarGen has also developed proprietary synthetic DNA promoters for various expression platform applications in plant-made pharmaceuticals, synthetic biology and GMOcrop improvement. A number of initiatives are supporting this growing sector. The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and PATH, a global non-profit organisation, have teamed up to create the Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA). Based in Cape Town, GHIA aims to support the development of high-impact health innovations such as finding a way to test for anaemia without drawing blood. PATH is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Thinta Diagnostics, which focusses on non-invasive medical diagnostics, is a company that received seed funding from PATH. The Western Cape Medical Devices Cluster is a grouping recognised and funded by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s Cluster Development Programme (CDP). According to Wesgro, 93% of medical device products are currently imported. The cluster was founded in 2016 with the assistance of several bodies: Wesgro, the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, the National Department of Science and Innovation and Kaiser Economic Development Partners. The cluster is the first of its kind in the province. Several companies are engaging in cuttingedge work. Research on radiation treatment of cancer using Gold Nano particles is happening at iThemba LABS, a National Research Foundation facility. In 2017, iThemba LABS celebrated three decades of operating the Separated Sector Cyclotron (SSC). The SSC produces acceleratorbased radiopharmaceuticals and enables the study of the internal structure of atomic nuclei. Real World Diagnostics makes rapid In Vitro Diagnostics (IVD) test kits for drugs, pregnancy, malaria and HIV in Brackenfell. The Real World Development Service does research and development and feasibility studies. A cheap plastic heart valve was developed by the Christiaan Barnard Cardiothoracic Surgery Department of UCT and the company making the valves is Strait Access Technologies, with headquarters in Observatory. The valve is inserted through a small incision and travels into position propelled by a balloon. It will assist millions of people with rheumatic heart disease. ■ The ZiBiPen. Credit: Impulse Biomed 19 WESTERN CAPE BUSINESS 2022

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