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SA, India, Brazil in resource deal

Cape Biotech is investigating a possible bio-prospecting partnership which would enable South Africa, Brazil and India to share each other’s resources in order to capitalize on their rich biodiversity.

Bio-prospecting is the search for valuable compounds in nature – plants, animals or micro-organisms – that can assist in the development of new drugs or industrial products.

Dr Mark Fyvie, Managing Director of Cape Biotech recently attended an India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) trade delegation where he met with his counterparts in New Delhi, and where a bio-prospecting memorandum of understanding was signed. Fyvie believes the three countries have “huge tracts of biodiversity” that can benefit each other, particularly sharing and collaborating on information platforms.

Biotechnology is one of the core focus areas of the IBSA agreement and representatives from government and industry met to discuss, among other issues, setting up tangible collaborations in the areas of functional genomics and high throughput biology.

“We are starting off very pragmatically and see this as a process that will gradually align the biodiversity objectives of the three countries,” he said.

Fyvie adds that they would like to create the ability for a powerful screening presence for the three countries, thereby enabling access to samples that are being poorly managed.

“This partnership is an agreement to work together going forward and is one of a number of areas of co-operation, where we could optimally exploit value from biodiversity and potentially embark on a joint bio-diversity project,” he says.

“The rollout is envisaged in three stages: sharing and learning, exchanging technologies and technology transfer, and eventually shared facilities among the three countries, but this will only be potentially possible once the alignment of national policies has begun.”

Fyvie was very impressed with India’s investment in skills development.

“There are many highly skilled people in India, which has contributed enormously to the country’s success in the biotech industry. The message is that you cannot over-invest in skills. This coupled with the strong IT industry, as biotech is becoming more information rich, will sustain the future expansion of the biotech sector of the Indian economy.”

Where South Africa is at an “advantage” says Fyvie, is that our infrastructure is better developed, our business culture is more westernised and the language barrier is less of an issue for foreign investors.

“What we don’t have is as big a local market to justify working on and developing expensive products like India, and this is probably why they are the 12th largest biotechnology entity in the world.” he said.

Fyvie hopes that this cooperative effort will allow all three countries to maximize their biodiversity by capitalising on each country’s areas of strength and experience.

Cape Biotech is the Western Cape-based Biotechnology Regional Innovation Centre (Bric) an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology.

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