A local supply of reagents and kits for Covid-19 testing is being developed locally to ensure security of supply, local manufacturing, and the creation and preservation of jobs.
Addressing a virtual National Covid-19 Conference on Friday, Higher Education, Science and Innovation (DSI) Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, said the supply of reagents and kits for Covid-19 testing was being developed through DSI-funded spin-out companies, centres of excellence and various other programmes and initiatives.
Nzimande said South Africa was currently importing testing kits, and local manufacturing would boost supplies for the continent.
“This work is at the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) accreditation stage and, in some cases, approval has already been granted. Some of the products were ready for use in May 2020,” Nzimande said.
The initiative in bio-manufacturing, which involves molecular biology enzymes, reagents and testing kits, is among the six specific initiatives that the department has been mobilising across the National System of Innovation, especially among its entities and the entities of sister departments, which are currently being fast-tracked to support government's response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Another initiative involves the deployment of DSI-funded infrastructure to expand testing for Covid-19.
Nzimande said the department had funded technology platforms and conducted the preparatory work necessary to become part of the national testing network. He said the department also believed that laboratories had the capability
Reflecting on some of the success stories, he said that the Product Development Technology Station at the Central University of Technology had been developing personal protective equipment (PPE), specifically an airway protection device for healthcare workers.
“The eNtsa innovation hub at Nelson Mandela University is using additive manufacturing (3D printing) for face shield frame design and printing modifications to enable clinicians to easily replace standard A4 transparent sheets without the need for holes and adhesives. The designs are now available through open source networks.
“eNtsa has also positioned itself to provide engineering support in the Eastern Cape and around the country during the lockdown to enable critical projects pertaining to maintenance for the power generation industry to continue,” Nzimande said.
The Minister said that the department had put together a Covid-19 Vaccine Production Task Team, which included the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), the South African Medical Research Council, academia, local vaccine and adjuvant manufacturers Biovac (which is 47.5% government owned) and Afrigen, which has Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) investment.
“The aim is to get South Africa into a state of readiness to manufacture an approved Covid-19 vaccine locally. In anticipation of the huge demand, should a candidate vaccine be identified, manufacturing facilities will need to be established in different regions, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Africa will also need to be ready,” Nzimande said.