Our #CapePioneers series showcases innovative local businesses that adapted to build resilience in the face of COVID-19. This week we speak to Cape Bio Pharms.
“The vision behind Cape Bio Pharms was always to provide security of proteins supply used for bio-medical research for Africa… we can now begin to fulfill that vision by rapidly scaling up our production capacity to not only produce proteins used against COVID-19, but also produce diagnostic proteins for other viruses such as HIV or Swine flu.”
Cape Bio Pharms, co-founded by mother and daughter Belinda and Tamlyn Shaw, was established in 2018 to commercialise the biotech innovations developed by the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) at the University of Cape Town, for the production of recombinant proteins in Nicotiana benthamiana plants (a relative of the tobacco plant). They focus on a wide range of research reagents critical for life scientists globally in the search for new drugs.
Positively contributing to the digital ecosystem
We have created plant-based antigens and antibodies critical for manufacturing rapid diagnostic test kits which are used at a community level. Results are available in minutes, enabling data to be obtained quickly for managing the spread of the disease.
Leadership in the digital ecosystem during COVID-19
We, along with our international partners, are researching and developing the production of plant-made antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, which will play a critical role in rapid test kits to show if you have had the virus. This research and development forms part of the Plants Against Corona initiative, which aims to foster a faster, broader and more effective COVID-19 testing response in South Africa and internationally.
Plants Against Corona was initiated by Cape Biologics, a subsidiary of Cape Bio Pharms. Together, we’ve initiated a global plant-based network of production facilities, academics and researchers, to create a network of intellectual capability to respond to the pandemic, as well as future health response challenges.
Showcasing success stories and best practices as a business during the crisis
In February 2020, we identified that the virus had the potential to become a local epidemic. We sourced the genetic sequence early and used the speed and flexibility of our plant-based platform to create the antigen to be used in rapid diagnostic test kits.
Our team has been exceptional during the crisis, remaining calm and adapting to the constantly changing environment. Collaboration has also been key - by reaching out to our network of researchers and other local manufacturers and laboratories, we’ve been able to effectively work together.
The future of your business and the “new normal”
Traditional methods of producing vaccines and antibodies has always been in living systems. Using a plant-based system is cheaper, faster and safer, translating into more accessible antibodies for research and drug discovery.
The scalability of plant-based proteins is a major advantage in terms of responding to a pandemic. When more antibodies are needed, more plants are grown, enabling a rapid response to disease management. We can have proteins ready for market within 2 to 3 weeks, compared to months in traditional systems.
Overcoming challenges during COVID-19
Developing new vaccines, medicines and diagnostics in South Africa is expensive and time-consuming, with local life scientists relying heavily on imported antibodies for their research. Delivery delays of between 3 three to 6 months hamper the country’s ability to remain competitive and fight off outbreaks.
Plant-based systems allow for a quicker turn-around time on the production of antibodies. The biggest drawcard is their role in ending a country’s expensive dependency on antibody and vaccine imports.
Why is Cape Town and the Western Cape perfect for your business
Through collaborations with other biotech players in Cape Town, Cape Bio Pharms is leveraging the existing ecosystem to meet local demand for reproducible, safe and affordable recombinant proteins and antibodies. South African life scientists have spent years developing valuable intellectual property, which is being lost overseas and should be used locally. We aim to change this by employing and upskilling local graduates in plant-based technology.
The plan for the next 5 years of tech in a changing world
We prepare by constantly innovating and making sure we are upgrading our technology and systems. We are looking into software to enable us to integrate AI into our data management and analysis. Biologics (protein medicine) is the future. The world is becoming more aware of our role in protecting animal rights and the fact that our proteins are replacing animal made proteins is a huge driving factor.
Goodwill, giving back and supporting other businesses during the crisis
We support local businesses around us wherever possible - from helping out a fellow biotech company to test their antibodies in our facilities due to lab closure, to supporting a local catering company to help feed our team lunch - we are all stronger when we work together. The amount of jobs we will be able to create as we scale up is also very encouraging.
Our #CapePioneers series showcases innovative local businesses that adapted to build resilience in the face of COVID-19.
For more information on Cape Bio Pharms, visit their website here.
Share your story of COVID-19 resilience with us and email firstname.lastname@example.org