The Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) Bio-Economy Strategy South Africa’s bio-economy through the exploitation of the country’s diverse natural resources such as animals, plant biodiversity, micro-organisms and minerals, to improve human health, address food security and contribution to economic growth. South Africa’s bio-based resources to create and grow biotechnology-based industries. This is vital for job creation, contribution to GDP, exports, the building of industries and addressing market failures, by harnessing human capital, financial resources, infrastructure and knowledge.
The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the entity of the DSI, plays an important role in the implementation of the Bio-Economy Strategy. The Agency is mandated through the Technology Innovation Agency Act, No. 26 of 2008, to promote the development and exploitation of innovations and technologies in the public interest.
Through its bio-economic strategic pillar, TIA supports the translation of South Africa’s knowledge resources into sustainable bio-based solutions for impact through the convergence of specific focus areas, especially Health, Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), Agriculture and Industrial Biotechnology. In addition, TIA manages cross-cutting Technology Platforms, Technology Innovation Clusters and Programs.
The successes of the initiatives demonstrate TIA’s position as an able collaborator to deliver critical interventions necessary to support the state on its path of inclusive economic growth and social development. The agency is best placed to support innovation in bio-based technologies that will transform not only the economy but the lives of ordinary South Africans.
TIA established the Technology Platforms program aimed at facilitating access to cutting edge technologies. Its objectives include the optimization of public investment in technology platforms, the facilitation of commercialization of technologies through partnerships and the leveraging of funds into program activities.
Through the Technology Platforms Program, TIA has established capabilities in various biotechnology focus areas locally:
- Three “omics” centers with expertise in genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics;
- Africa’s first integrated drug discovery and development center;
- A bioprocessing and rapid diagnostics product development facility;
- A body imaging facility possessing two imaging modalities, namely, magnetic resonance and Positron emission tomography;
- A facility to support the development of African traditional medicines and natural products that can be validated for safety, efficacy, and quality; and
- A Biosafety Platform that supports regulators, innovators, and consumers to engage on biosafety risk assessment issues that lead to the sustainable development of biotechnology products.
The Technology Innovation Cluster model is TIA’s approach for assessing value chains and stimulating the development of activities and interventions to stimulate sector- or industry-level engagement through a cross-cutting approach. This approach is designed to address the need for funding for individual projects.
TIA has funded four bio-based Technology Innovation Clusters since establishing the initiative. These are the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients Cluster, the Medical Device and Diagnostics Innovation Cluster, the Animal Health Cluster, and the Forest Bio-Economy Innovation Cluster. The DSI Nuclear Medicines and Biosciences Program, the Beef Genomics Program and the Dairy Genomics Program are also managed by TIA.
TIA has invested R15 million towards the establishment of the API Cluster, to focus on the synthesis of small-molecule APIs for human health using modern manufacturing technology. To ensure the commercial translation of the API molecules synthesized towards full-scale production, the cluster has also established a dedicated pilot-scale, regulatory compliant API chemical laboratory, which will support the analytical testing required during the synthetic process of API molecule development. This laboratory will serve the analytical needs within the API Cluster and be accessible to all industry partners. The laboratory is hosted by CPT Pharma (Pty) Ltd and will play a critical role in translation technology between Higher Education Institutions and manufacturing scale-up. It costs South Africa R15billion a year to import most of the APIs used to formulate medicines in local plants. This dependency has at times led to import and distribution problems.
The Medical Device and Diagnostics Innovation Cluster (MeDDIC) is a partnership between the South African Medical Research Council and TIA which aims to create a common ecosystem that competitive medical devices and diagnostics industry. Medical devices and diagnostics are vital in the detection, prevention, and management of diseases. In South Africa’s public sector market.
SAHPRA registration. The program seeks to fund opportunities to localize the manufacture of key components or of complete medical devices.
TIA’s interventions in the agricultural sector have significant potential for impact on job creation, support for commercial and smallholder farmers, and ensure food security.
The Agriculture Bioeconomy Innovation Partnership Program (ABIPP) is a DSI and industry partnership program. This is a mega-program that funds, facilitates and manages multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research programs. These programs focus on agricultural bio-innovation, product processes and services contributing to increased productivity, food security and sustainable rural development. The program encourages the competitiveness of the local agricultural sector.
Among the successes of the ABIPP is the quantum of co-funding drawn from various public and private partners. The co-funding has allowed for greater economic and societal impact. The Marula Value Chain project, which is a joint development agreement between the TIA and the IDC and is an example of a successful public sector collaborative initiative that addresses national priorities.
The Ukhanyo Farmer Development (UFD) program to assist smallholder maize farmers in the Eastern Cape province by providing mentorship, training and support for increased yields and sustainable farming practices. The program addresses the challenges of secure storage of maize through a developed post-harvest technology transfer program, and the process of Nixtamalization.
The Industrial Biocatalysis Hub (IBH), is a platform for the industrial assimilation of biocatalysis technologies conceptualized to reduce the risk associated with the adoption of bio-based technology by industry. The IBH supports biocatalysis through human capital development, applied research and development and technology transfer. The hub has the potential to deliver high-end biocatalysis innovations for local production and export to global territories.
The portfolio and pipeline investees such as Biodx (Pty) Ltd, Enzyme Technologies (Pty) Ltd, Khepri Innovations (Pty) Ltd, and Lignorganic (Pty) Ltd have developed processes that high-value products with commercial application in various sectors including cosmetics, mining, and crop and animal health.
TIA funding and support for government-funded innovations The strategic goal of TIA, however, is to illustrate the effects of the Bioeconomy Strategy. According to, human capacity development, research excellence, access to next-generation technologies, providing incentives and adequate funding, access to global intellectual property transfer, alignment with national priorities, regulatory support and information dissemination have been supported.
The future coordinated interventions by TIA, Science Councils, Higher Education Institutions, government and the private sector. A better life for all that is attainable, as promised by the constitution of South Africa.