Africa’s plans to build capacity to respond to future pandemics has received a major boost after the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) received an investment worth $4 458 033 (R80 million) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to drive skills and health innovation.
The investment, which seeks to strengthen Africa’s biomanufacturing capability through a workforce training and skills development programme, is a significant milestone that will reduce the continent’s dependence on imported critical health products.
“Skills development and the establishment of the necessary infrastructure in the field of biomanufacturing require urgent action to strengthen our capability to manufacture health products that are accessible and cost-effective locally,” said CSIR Group Executive: Advanced Chemistry and Life Sciences, Dr Rachel Chikwamba.
Chikwamba believes the cash injection will reduce the continent’s reliance on imported therapeutics and promote the development of tailored health products for the African population.
“Therefore, this workforce development programme will have a significant catalytic role in stimulating local biomanufacturing by providing hands-on training and competency building,” she said.
The grant, according to the CSIR, will support local training and workforce development for the manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients, biopharmaceuticals and vaccines in Africa.
The investment will also contribute to the modernisation of infrastructure and equipment that are key to building a robust local biomanufacturing capability.
“The grant from the Gates Foundation will allow for the expansion of the existing microbial production facility and the establishment of bench-scale production using mammalian cell-culture systems. This is a key focus area for us because, quite often, lead biopharmaceuticals that are discovered in Africa remain in the research and development phase and never reach commercial reality,” explained CSIR Research Group Leader: Bioprocess Technologies, Dr Santosh Ramchuran.
According to Ramchuran, the work, which will support product development, is in keeping with the CSIR’s role in research translation and innovation.
“We provide knowledge, skills development and infrastructure to drive sustainability in the biotech sector,” he added.
The initiative will focus on Black female candidates and applicants from other African countries to make up a majority of those who will benefit from the programme.
The CSIR, an entity of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa.
The CSIR undertakes directed and multidisciplinary research and technological innovation, as well as industrial and scientific development to improve the quality of life of all South Africans.