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AU-EU Summit 17-18 February 2022: A Science Agenda

The AERAP Africa-Europe Science Collaboration Platform will organise side events at the AU-EU Summit on 14-18 February 2022. The purpose of the meeting will be to promote awareness of the contribution of collaborative research and development as a critical aspect of EU-Africa relations and collaborations, in particular in addressing global challenges together.

To join this event please register here.

avatar for Belinda Shaw

Belinda Shaw

Cape BioLogix
Executive Chair & Founder
South Africa
Cape Biopharms (Pty) Ltd (“CBP”), established in 2018 as a spin-off of Africa’s leading university, The University of Cape Town, is one of the very few early movers in the highly promising and potentially industry disrupting area of “biopharming". Biopharming, also known as plant molecular farming, refers to the use of genetically modified plants to produce a wide range of pharmaceutical and industrial products

The company’s technology, called plant transient expression, uses a distant cousin of the tobacco plant converting thousands of them into single-use, biodegradable bioreactors to express a wide range of pharmaceutical proteins used by life scientists in labs around the world for drug discovery and testing, for use as diagnostic reagents against infectious and non-communicable diseases, as vaccines, therapeutic treatments and biosimilars.

The transient expression technology has been around for over 30 years but innovations in both upstream and downstream processes has enabled it to become a competitive alternative to traditional expression systems, such as mammalian cell culture systems, bacteria, insects or in eggs. Plant-based expression offers greater flexibility in production of large or small volumes, agility in being able to quickly swop out production output to meet critical needs and speed to market being four to eight weeks from infiltration to market samples. Plants are also exceptionally good at expressing complex molecular structures as well as being an ethical alternative in that no animals or animal-based products are used in the entire value chain. Upstream costs are on average 10% of traditional systems offering superior economics in a market estimated to be worth US$664,74 billion by 2030. Reduced costs of COGS offered by the plant-based system translates to more affordable and accessible diagnostic tests and medicines where needed most.

Africa 's population of 1,3 billion people represent 16% of the world's population yet carries 24% of the global disease burden. The plant-based expression system offers a viable opportunity for Africa to develop its own manufacturing and IP generation capability and reduce the US$14 billion that is extracted from resource strapped governments who have to collectively import upto 80% of its pharmaceutical proteins needs. Covid-19 has demonstrated that Africa must develop its own biosecurity to prevent a repitition of being neglected in the distribution supply chain of the next pandemic. Because there surely will be one.

Cape Biopharms aims to establish three key cGMP grade production hubs. Cape Town as been in operation since 2019 with a capacity of over 20 000mg per month. The hubs in Dakar and Mauritius will commence construction in 2023 and 2025 respectively, having already a finance facility from the European Investment Bank to develop these facilities. The enhanced manufacturing facilities in South Africa, Senegal and Mauritius will have a combined protein production capacity of 250 grams of protein per month. A growing network of collaborations and partnerships is building a pipeline of plant-based diagnostic proteins, vaccine and therapeutic candidates expected to enter clinical trials commencing 2024. The three hubs not only ensures local production capacity but will contribute enormously towards developing skills and creating jobs in the bio sciences and agri-tech sectors to ensure a growing, independent and sustainable bio-tech sector for the future.

The growing promise of this technology was highlighted by the success story of ZMapp™, a potentially life-saving drug used during the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016, and again in 2018. Plant-produced VLPs (virus like particles) have emerged as promising alternatives for the production of many therapeutic proteins, notably candidate vaccines against infectious disease agents, such as influenza viruses, hepatitis B virus (HBV), HIV, HPV, and SARS-CoV-2. Recent technological revolutions, such as targeted genome editing, deconstructed vectors, virus-like particles, and huma