Although many countries, including the U.S., suffer from drug shortages, the problem is particularly severe in South Africa. For example, pharmacist Audrey Chigome of the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Pretoria, and her colleagues, surveyed more than 400 hospital pharmacists, and about one-third of them reported shortages of antimicrobials. To address some of the drug shortages, Belgian biotech Bio-Sourcing and South African biotech Afrigen Biologics recently teamed up.

This partnership will rely on Bio-Sourcing’s BioMilk platform, which uses genome editing to produce monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) in transgenic goats’ milk. Currently, South Africa imports biotherapeutics, but Bio-Sourcing and Afrigen are planning a pilot program with hopes of later commercial-scale production of mAbs.

“We are thrilled to be a partner in this innovative biotherapeutic platform,” says Petro Terblanche, PhD, Afrigen’s CEO. “It further enhances Afrigen’s commitment to improving access and affordability of the latest treatments not only for South Africans, but also other people in Africa.”

Critical steps ahead

The key to success, however, depends on the next steps. “With this pilot phase, we aim to demonstrate successful technology transfer to South Africa and develop a commercial scale-up plan for producing biotherapeutics at a significantly lower cost,” Terblanche says. “We expect to usher in a new era of product innovation, where the latest therapies are affordable.”

Both companies, though, are taking on new ground. For example, Bertrand Mérot, PhD, CEO of Bio-Sourcing, says that his company’s “collaboration with Afrigen, an established player in the biopharmaceutical sector, represents an important step in the deployment of Bio-Sourcing in healthcare.” Still, he is hopeful of more to come. As he says, “I look forward to the future installation of our first bulk plant.”

For South Africa, and other countries on the continent, it will take more than one partnership to address drug shortages. But, every partnership could reduce the scope of the gap in being able to treat patients.

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