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17/07/2018

This article appeared in The Herald of 17 July 2018 - written by Guy Rogers 
rogersg@tisoblackstar.co.za

A Nelson Mandela University drive to build capacity to launch the manufacture of Aids drugs and other advanced pharmaceutical substances for the first time is set to be showcased at a major convention in August.

A Nelson Mandela University drive to build capacity to launch the manufacture of Aids drugs and other advanced pharmaceutical substances for the first time is set to be showcased at a major convention in August.

The NMU project could save the country billions of rands and allow sufferers to access locally manufactured generics rather than those imported from India and China.

Project leader Professor Paul Watts confirmed on Monday that they had been contacted by the organisers of the BioAfrica convention and that his team would be participating in the event in Durban.

Watts, who is from the UK, is the research chair in microfluidic biochemical processing in the university’s chemistry department.

The aim of the team’s research was to improve efficiency in pharmaceutical manufacturing, he said.

“We’re looking in particular at Aids, TB and malaria and at improving skills to allow SA to manufacture its own component substances for the drugs needed to treat these diseases.”

At present, the development of original drugs in this area was limited to Europe and the US while generics were produced in China and India.

SA imported these older generics because they were much cheaper than the latest drugs but huge expenditure still flowed out of the country, he said.

“SA has spent an estimated R120bn over the last 10 years purchasing these generics.

“So the aim is to manufacture our own drugs, save money and give South Africans access to the latest pharmaceutical developments.”

The skills drive aspect of the project had been supported by the installation of the latest National Research Foundationfunded equipment such as continuous flow reactors to improve the mixing of chemicals.

Further to this end, a proposal for a full-scale commercial facility to manufacture Aids drugs had been submitted.

Watts said it could not be revealed yet who had made the submission and to whom it was made, and several possible sites had been mooted.

“It might be at Coega or in the Durban industrial development zone, but whatever the case the research would be done here at NMU.”

AfricaBio CEO Siyabulelo Mtutela said the association was busy with a countrywide tour to promote the August 2729 BioAfrica convention.

Biotechnology was the exploitation of biological processjudge,” es for industrial and other purposes, and the convention would reflect the latest developments in this field across various sectors, including agriculture, environment, energy and health, he said.

The convention is being funded by the department of science & technology, which is among the many public and private entities that have already signed up to take part.

Supporting the main event, AfricaBio is partnering on several other ventures, including a workshop to train students how to commercialise their research and a pitching session with global venture funders.

Anyone interested in attending the convention can contact Mtutela on 078-680 9433 or at info@africabio.com

NEW FRONTIERS: A NMU biochemistry team under Prof Paul Watts, including second-year PhD student Kwakhanya Mkwakwi, pictured, are working to establish capacity for SA to manufacture its own Aids, TB and malaria drugs, using cutting-edge new equipment. Picture: FREDLIN ADRIAAN