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South African entrepreneurs to transform COVID-19 testing process

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April 2020: Two South African entrepreneurs have developed a ground-breaking testing kit that promises to significantly speed up the process of identifying positive COVID-19 cases.

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellows Daniel Ndima and Dineo Lioma have developed a testing kit that provides results in just 65 minutes, through their company CapeBio.

Testing is a pillar of any campaign against coronavirus, not only because it identifies infected individuals but because it also provides an idea of how the virus may be developing within the country. Once scientists potentially understand its spread, government can plan resources accordingly.

This is why the qCPR kits developed by CapeBio are hailed as a massive breakthrough, with critical implications for the country’s ability to weather the current crisis.

“The ability to obtain rapid test results allows us to gain a clearer picture of viral infections, so that we are able to introduce interventions with greater effectiveness,” explains Daniel Ndima, CEO of CapeBio.

“This will remain important even after lockdown, as South Africa has a population of over 55 million people who will need to be monitored on an ongoing basis.”

A scientist with a special interest in structural biology, Ndima says that the development of the kits represents a spinoff of the work he has dedicated the past 12 years of his life to.

“Our kits help pathologists isolate and identify a virus’s DNA or genetic material from an infected person. This makes it possible to detect the virus accurately in a laboratory.”

As a locally manufactured product, the qCPR could mitigate the reliance on overseas imports, ensuring that testing reagents could be accessed quickly and without a wait. They are also more affordable than international products.

“One of our major challenges is our reliance on imported tests,” he explains. “Most countries are currently experiencing issues with supply and demand, which their respective governments are controlling with newly introduced trade regulations. This has caused delays in the delivery of imported testing kits and protective gear and may impact on the delivery of vaccines once they have passed clinical trials.”

Most importantly, CapeBio’s product makes it possible to obtain test results in just 65 minutes, compared to the usual three hours.

 

Collaboration for solutions

While efforts have been made to reduce the spread of the virus, Ndima points out that the impact of the crisis on our economy is just as concerning as the toll on our healthcare systems.

With this in mind, Ndima says that entrepreneurs would do well to consider their offerings and tactics, so they are better suited to a drastically changed ‘post coronavirus’ world. One of the hallmarks of this world is collaboration, he notes.

CapeBio has benefited from collaboration it with the Department of Science and Innovation’s COVID-19 response team, where experts from universities and R&D centres around the country have been give a platform to share ideas and capabilities in the search for viable solutions. But this is not the only mentorship Ndima has received – he has been guided along his entrepreneurial journey by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellowship Programme.

The Fellowship Programme is one of three programmes the Foundation offers in pursuit of creating a pipeline of responsible entrepreneurs. The Foundation provides Fellowship recipients, known as Allan Gray Candidate Fellows, funding for university studies as well as access to support and development to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. These programmes run throughout the academic year alongside the Candidate Fellow’s university studies.

The post-coronavirus world offers an opportunity for businesses to reimagine their offerings, believes Ndima.

“All of us need to go back to the drawing boards, rethink tactics, collaborate and rebuild, using the benefits offered by 4IR tools to create high impact businesses. This global pandemic is presenting us with serious health and economic threats, but I think it could present us with stimulated business mindsets going into the new world – so that, hopefully, we can build businesses rooted in kindness to all our people and a sense of responsibility and patriotism to our nation,” he concludes.

 

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