Department of Science and Innovation Director-General, Phil Mjwara, says government through the department is to make a further R25 million to the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) to continue with health threats researches.
NGS-SA is a network established to rapidly respond to public health threats in South Africa.
Mjwara said government has coordinated a package of responses across the National System of Innovation (NSI) to address South Africa’s readiness for the impact of COVID-19.
Addressing a webinar on the role of the scientific research in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic organized jointly by Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) and the National Press Club, Mjwara said the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Biosciences Lab has conducted 16 986 SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests for eight different entities to date.
He said 2800 SARS-CoV-2 whole genomes from South Africa have been produced to date.
“Future studies underway to gather data on whether there is any clinical and epidemiological evidence to suggest impact,” Mjwara said, adding that the CSIR has been able to leverage its capabilities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This highlights the importance of investing in Research and Development (R&D) capability development in dealing with future crises and opportunities. There are ongoing R&D activities which include developing relevant capabilities in order to fully support the state,” Mjwara said.
Mjwara said the CSIR and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) continue to explore the possibility of localising vaccine technology from the Kentucky Bioprocessing (KBP).
“There is consideration being given to conducting some phases of clinical development in South Africa as part of the potential technology transfer approach, adjusting technology for new variants.
“This approach is necessary given the strain variation that could impact the efficacy of some of the current vaccines,” Mjwara said.
Mjwara said the KBP technical team will be engaging with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) clinical trial expert committee to explore possible strategies on the basis of the KBP vaccine and its properties and the efficacy/clinical trial data accumulated to date.
“The capability to be established will be able to produce other high value biotechnology drugs, notably for other infectious diseases, cancer and other chronic diseases.
“The vision is that the facility, if established, should be able to supply vaccines and medicines to Sub-Saharan Africa,” Mjwara said.
Mjwara said the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (“CPGR”) provided 20 018 tests to support NHLS.
Also speaking was Chief Executive Officer of the South African Health Products Authority, Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, who said South Africa participated in a number of ongoing vaccines studies across the world.
“We were able to expedite our processes. We were involved in studies for AstraZeneca vaccine, Pfizer vaccine, Johnson & Johnson vaccine studies and a number of other studies that are ongoing,” Semete-Makokotlela said.
Semete-Makokotlela said all these are a reflective of the scientific stature of the country and also a reflective of the capability of the country in the area of clinical trials.
“It is important for us as the regulator that we play our part in enabling the scientific community in the research community to be able to participate in these studies,” she said.
Dr Semete-Makokotlela said South Africa contributed significantly in the data that was generated by the pharmaceutical industry.
South Africa’s pharmaceutical sector is worth approximately R20-billion annually. Although there are more than 200 pharmaceutical firms in the country, large companies dominate the field.