WHOÂ’s director-general part of high-level delegation visiting SU genomics lab

Stellenbosch UniversityÂ’s (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) hosted a high-level international delegation, led by the World Health OrganisationÂ’s (WHO) director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at its Tygerberg campus in Cape Town on Friday.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

CAPE TOWN- Local scientists have expressed great excitement at being a major part of the development of AfricaÂ’s first Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing hub.

This visit to the FMHSÂ’s Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) formed part of a two-day tour to inspect the facilities that will make up AfricaÂ’s first Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing hub.

The high-level delegation included Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Deputy Minister Buti Manamela, the Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir, members of the WHO and other national and international stakeholders.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the ‘vaccine gap’ between the developing and developed worlds, posing a serious health threat to the people of Africa, said FMHS’s dean, Professor Elmi Muller.

“As a leading health sciences faculty on the continent, we are committed to finding solutions to health challenges facing the people of South Africa and the African continent. We are excited to be part of the first Covid Messenger RNA (mRNA) Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub that will help build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity in Africa, and establish Africa’s vaccine independence,” said Muller.

SUÂ’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) is a partner-member of the South African mRNA Vaccine Consortium (SAMVAC), selected by the WHO to become the first Covid mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub.

The purpose of the hub is to develop vaccine research and manufacturing capacity on the African continent. CERIÂ’s role in this consortium is the genomic surveillance and identification of variants in Africa.

CERI, a new centre that will officially be launched later this year is envisioned to be the largest genomics facility in Africa, and is headed by Professor Tulio de Oliveira, world-renowned bioinformatician and professor of bioinformatics at SU.

“We are very excited to be selected to be part of the first WHO mRNA hub in the world that builds on our expertise in genomics and passion for capacity development. The mRNA hub is not only about manufacturing vaccines, but will build capacity on the continent,” said De Oliveira.

The BMRI, where CERI is located, is a large infrastructural investment of more than R1 billion by SU and the South African Department of Science and Innovation. It is on par with the most advanced biomedical research facilities in the world, and will host world-class research groups in South Africa.

De OliveiraÂ’s research is aimed at responding effectively to epidemics through pathogen genomics surveillance. This work enables enhanced biomedical discovery, improved treatment and diagnosis, better vaccine development to prevent human disease, and has the potential to lead global research in this field and generate significant economic opportunities for Africa.

SU rector and vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers said: “Stellenbosch University is proud to be part of this initiative and we applaud the contributions of all role players. The cutting-edge research and purposeful partnerships involved in this initiative will help make South Africa, Africa and the world a better place.

“By improving healthcare everywhere, this initiative will help counter the inequity exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

News date: 2022-02-16



KRISP has been created by the coordinated effort of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the South African Medical Research Countil (SAMRC).

Location: K-RITH Tower Building
Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN
719 Umbilo Road, Durban, South Africa.
Director: Prof. Tulio de Oliveira