11 September 2007
The third component of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) opened in South Africa this week.
The state-of-the-art research facility, based at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, will focus mainly on the development of new vaccines against serious infectious diseases such as HIV/Aids, malaria, hepatitis B and C and tuberculosis.
It joins sister laboratories in Trieste, Italy and New Delhi, India in serving as the 74-country organisation’s international facilities for high quality scientific research and training in the field of biosciences.
Established by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation in 1987, the ICGEB is an inter-governmental organisation that operates as a centre of excellence for research and training in biotechnology and genetic engineering, focusing on the needs of the developing world.
The Cape Town component of the ICGEB will eventually be expanded to advance knowledge and apply the latest techniques in biomedicine, crop improvement, environmental protection and remediation, biopharmaceuticals and biopestidice production.
Hosting the facility will help South Africa develop an African biotechnology hub – drawing scientists from around the world to Cape Town – and boost the country’s profile as a preferred destination for global science and technology initiatives.
The Department of Science and Technology is contributing approximately €4-million toward costs of the Cape Town laboratory over the next four years, with the government and ICGEB management also calling on the private sector to provide funding.
Speaking at the opening, President Thabo Mbeki said the centre would help reverse the brain drain on the continent, enable countries to meet their Millennium Development Goals and enhance regional scientific cooperation.
He said genetic engineering and biotechnology would make a critical contribution in addressing current and future needs in areas of healthcare and food and energy security, especially in the face of global challenges such as climate change.
“Equally, we look to biotechnology to assist us … to enhance our capacity in the areas of indigenous knowledge systems and biodiversity, so that we can develop these areas into sustainable initiatives for the benefit of all our peoples and humanity as a whole,” he said.
Mbeki said a critical challenge facing African countries was to ensure that they produced sufficient numbers of experts in science and technology, adding that he hoped youngsters would be inspired by South Africa’s Nobel Prize winners in biotechnology-related fields.
These include Sydney Brenner, for his work on controlled cell-death during organ development in 2002, Aaron Klug for work on macromolecular biology (1982), Allan Cormack for co-inventing the CAT scan (1979), and Max Theiller for his work on yellow fever in 1951.