27 July 2009
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor says the biotechnology industry must be developed in South Africa and the region to ensure the advancement of therapies for HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and other diseases.
She said that South Africa had long recognised the importance of a successful biotechnology industry, and many structures had been established across the country to enhance research and innovation.
“This is a sector that we have to build and grow,” Pandor said at the National Biotechnology Workshop in Pretoria last week, adding that the heavy burden of disease in southern Africa created the need for added impetus in searching for biotechnology solutions.
“We want to make South Africa one of the top 10 nations in the world in terms of the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, flavour, fragrance and biopesticide industries by 2018.”
Affordable treatment and cures
Pandor said the development of research and innovation platforms and programmes would facilitate rapid drug discovery, rational drug design and development, and the validation of traditional therapies.
She said there was hope that advances in diagnostics, genomics and proteomics would help produce “radical and affordable” treatments and cures.
One area of biotechnology that required further debate and policy was that of genetically modified crops, Pandor said, adding that South Africa had not fully discussed this science and needed to.
Pandor added that the industry had given specific attention to the exploitation of South Africa’s indigenous knowledge to develop medicinal products from plants.
“South Africa is rich in biodiversity, and the government has initiated programmes for the development of medicines based on traditional remedies,” she said.
“Already, we have initiated four bio-prospecting and product development flagship projects – on traditional medicines, cosmeceuticals, nutraceuticals and ceramics – and registered a Bachelor of Indigenous Knowledge Systems degree, the first of its kind in the world.”
Technology Innovation Agency
CapeBiotech, BioPAD, LIFElab and PlantBio – referred to collectively as the Biotechnology (Regional) Innovation Centres – had all migrated to the recently established Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
The TIA has been established as a public funding agency that will ensure that local research and development is converted into commercial products and services. It will also improve coordination in the promotion of innovation, including in biotechnology.
The agency’s primary objectives are to stimulate the development of technology-based products, services and enterprises; to develop a technology base for the South African economy; and to facilitate the development of human capital for innovation.
The government also published the National Biotechnology Strategy in 2007, along with a 10-year innovation plan setting targets for government, and Pandor said her department was committed to realising this vision.
“Although the development of a sustainable and vibrant biotechnology industry remains a complex task, and although the global biotechnology environment is highly competitive, we are confident that South Africa will be successful,” she said.