SA biotech entrepreneurs come up with fast Covid-19 testing kit
Biotech scientists Daniel Ndima and Dineo Lioma have created a Covid-19 diagnostic kit that can deliver results in 65 minutes. Usually a test takes three hours to produce results.
The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation fellows are the founders of biotech company Cape Bio Technologies.
They said their qPCR kit had passed their internal tests but was still being reviewed by an external third party before it could be certified as a health product.
“Once we get validation externally then we will take it to the regulators,” Ndima, who welcomed SowetanLIVE to an exclusive visit to their facility, said.
Ndima, 33, said the kit was not for self-diagnosis at home but for pathologists to use in a lab setting.
He said with their kit, the samples were taken through the mouth and nose, just like in traditional testing.
Lioma, 30, said getting traction as a start-up company in the biotech space was difficult, especially when it came to funding.
“Many people doubted us and getting traction as a company was hard,” she said.
“In the ecosystem as a whole it is not easy to secure funding in the biotech industry, usually it’s just enough to just get going and when you have proven that you can do something, that is when further opportunities open up.
“In places such as the US, as soon as you say biotechnology, millions and millions will be pumped into your work.”
The pair are known in the industry for manufacturing biotech products that they exported all over the world.
Their qPCR kit comes as SA hit 111,796 confirmed Covid-19 cases on Wednesday night.
Ndima said they believed their kit would assist in alleviating pressure regarding importing tests from other countries.
Lioma said SA was relying heavily on exports from international companies.
“We ultimately want to sell it at a fair market price and our main intention is to assist the government,” Lioma said.
The business partners said they had been friends for more than nine years, having met while they were still in university.
Ndima has a MSc in structural biology from the University of Pretoria specialising in protein crystallography and Lioma has a MSc in materials engineering from Wits University and a MPhil in micro and nanotechnology enterprise from Cambridge University.
“We have 11 employees and all of them are under 35,” Ndima said.
He said because their company was growing they were planning on hiring five or six more people in the coming month.
They recently left the innovation hub where they were incubated since their 2018 inception.
They were also executing a research and development (R&D) project funded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the department of science and innovation.
“In the future we want to sell diagnostic kits for HIV and TB,” Lioma said.
* All health products placed on the market in SA must be certified by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority.— Sowetan
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