Biotech entrepreneurs come up with fast Covid-19 testing kit in SA

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 has passed their internal tests but is still being reviewed by an external third party before it can be certified as a health product.

“Once we get validation externally then we will take it to the regulators,” said Ndima who welcomed SowetanLIVE to an exclusive visit to their facility. 

Ndima, 33, said the kit is not for self-diagnosis at home but for pathologists to use in a lab setting.

He said with their kit, the samples are taken from a suspected Covid-19 case through the mouth and nose, just like in traditional testing. 

Lioma, 30, told Sowetan that getting traction as a start-up company in the biotech space is difficult, especially when it comes to funding.

“Many people doubted us and getting traction as a company was hard. 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,” she said. 

“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 at a time when South Africa hit 111,796 confirmed cases on Wednesday night.  

Ndima said they believe their kit will assist in alleviating pressure from importing tests from other countries. Lioma said South Africa is currently 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,” said Lioma.

The business partners told Sowetan that they have been friends for over nine years, meeting 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,” said Ndima.

He said because their company is growing they are 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 (CSIR) and the department of science & innovation (DSI).

“In the future we want to sell diagnostic kits for HIV and TB,” said Lioma.

CSIR Research Group Leader and Principal Researcher Dr Tsepo Tsekoa and Dr Lusisizwe Kwezi have assisted in creating an enzyme for production technologies required for CapeBio’s Covid-19 diagnostic kit. 

“We are also providing support for commercial scale manufacturing and will assist them to localise another enzyme production technology,” said Tsekoa. 

-All health products placed on the market in South Africa must be certified by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

View article on sowetanlive.co.za

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