• Seeds of hope

    Seeds of hope

    A Cape Town-based biotech company has joined the global effort to create a fast and affordable antibody test for COVID-19, with the help of a relative of the tobacco plant.

    Cape Bio Pharms, a spin-off of the University of Cape Town’s Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) is using Nicotiana benthamiana as a bioreactor to produce COVID-19 proteins and antibodies, and to develop components of a serology test that detects antibodies in a patient’s blood.

    BRU biotechnologist Inga Hitzeroth explains that they have been using the plant in their research for more than 20 years because of the its strength and ability to grow quickly – harnessing the plant ‘as a small factory to produce proteins and antibodies that they can later extract for use in vaccines and diagnostics’.

    After sourcing the gene sequences for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Cape Bio Pharms launched Plants Against Corona – a partnership of commercial research labs and academic partners from around the world.

    ‘Building global networks today helps the world prepare a first line of defence against the next pandemic,’ says Belinda Shaw, co-founder and CEO of Cape Bio Pharms.

    Chief scientific officer Tamlyn Shaw adds that we have already sent samples of our antigens to local test-kit manufacturers who are validating our proteins externally. The speed and accessibility of these test kits will allow public health authorities to consistently test for SARS-CoV-2 in their communities’.

    16 June 2020
    Image: Gallo/Getty Images