CSIR launches open-innovation platform for developing and supporting biomanufacturing in SA

The CSIR has launched a newly established Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre to provide product and process development support to the South African small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that intend to produce biologicals for industrial, veterinary and human applications.

Funded through the Jobs Fund of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the centre is the first of its kind built in the country. The CSIR Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC) is meant to become a hub for open-innovation in biomanufacturing and is specifically dedicated to start-ups and SMEs in the development of new technologies and products. It will provide incubated companies with access to ready-to-use biomanufacturing facilities and supporting research and development (R&D) laboratories, as well as access to experts in the fields related to bioprocess development and scale-up.

The BIDC aims to support and develop at least 12 businesses over the next three years, leading to a potential gross domestic product contribution of up to R180 million a year. The true benefit of this investment however, will be seen in the years thereafter as the biomanufacturing sector grows.

The CSIR BIDC is located in newly refurbished buildings at the CSIR campus in Pretoria. While the official launch of the facility is scheduled for December this year, operations commenced in July this year.

The centre is supporting companies through the prototyping and scale-up phases of product development and will assist them to do market acceptance testing, and to launch products on the market. The companies will remain the sole owners of their innovations and retain absolute control over their future in terms of added value and partnerships. The facility will also help lower the cost and barriers that inhibit innovative enterprises from translating their inventions into market-ready products, and will play an enabling role in developing necessary partnerships that will directly contribute to sustainable job creation.

Commercialisation manager Fanie Marais, says: “After numerous months of meticulous planning, and with the vital support of our partners, we were pleased to start operating. The facility exemplifies the CSIR’s commitment to the development of entrepreneurship and the advancement of SMEs in the biomanufacturing industry.”

“The establishment of a well-resourced and operational biomanufacturing centre producing prototypes for the industrial, agricultural and health sectors requires a significant long-term investment in both infrastructure and specialised skills. Strong business development support will be provided through partnerships with business incubators eGoLiBio.

“What makes the CSIR BIDC a unique resource is the blending of R&D, industrial and commercial expertise, within the context of a working pilot-scale biomanufacturing plant that resembles the environment where the entrepreneurs will eventually work,” says Marais.

The BIDC is part of an expansion to the CSIR’s already significant presence in the field of biosciences. Over the past years the CSIR has, in partnership with its main funders, invested millions in R&D and infrastructure. These investments have come in the form of exceptional new facilities, supported by up-to-date technology and laboratory space. Most notably, the CSIR has recently invested R50 million in a new R&D facility that will support the proposed centre. The R90 million project spans three years and R72 million will be funded by the DBSA, while the CSIR will co-fund the project with a R18 million investment. The project includes a R40 million investment in new infrastructure to procure specialised large-scale infrastructure to complement the existing pilot plants at the CSIR.

“Furthermore, the centre is designed in such a way that it is highly flexible and adaptable because we believe that this synthesis of academic and industrial activity will accelerate innovation and process development. With entrepreneurs, students and industrial experts all in the mix, we expect the centre to help evolve the best practices of biomanufacturing by providing applied experience for the incubatees to go out there and become well-established business people,” Marais says.

Biomanufacturing encompasses four major categories of production technology: natural product extraction; microbial fermentation; biocatalysis; and cell culture. Irrespective of how the biomass is generated, all technologies require downstream processing (usually extraction and purification), followed by formulation, filling and packaging. Biomanufacturing serves a variety of industries, including biopharmaceuticals, industrial biologics (sold to the chemical and fuel sectors, including enzymes, vitamins, bioremediation products and biofuels), food and feed bioproducts (including probiotics, additives, bio-control agents, supplements and natural products), diagnostic reagents and cosmetics (extraction and formulation of natural products obtained through fermentation or conventional aqueous/solvent extraction.)

Fanie Marais

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