Sumbo Oluwatosin

20 Nov 2023
20 Nov 2023

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If we don’t build our home, no one else will.

What do you do?

As founder, it is my responsibility to keep the vision and purpose of the company in check. This involves motivating the team and making informed decisions that drive the team towards our goals. I’m also involved in our technology and product development. Creating a healthy culture that fosters high performance also forms part of my job.

During my time as a researcher and student, I learnt about antimicrobial resistance and the challenges arising from the current use of antibiotics. A case example is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), a condition characterised by a disturbed healthy vaginal microbiome. BV affects approximately two thirds of females globally, and currently has a >50% recurrence rate six months post-antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics used for BV treatment, or other infections such as Urinary Tract Infections, also contribute to the disturbance of a healthy vaginal microbiome. This leaves the female reproductive system prone to infections. Human microbiome- based live biotherapeutics show promise as an antibiotic alternative. However, the issue of access to this cutting-edge biotechnology relative to socioeconomic inequalities, especially in the African context, is a predominant challenge.

The motivation for pursuing this technology was catalysed by having continued conversations with females around a possible solution. However, the barrier for access to a possible solution was efficacy and accessibility, in terms of affordability. I didn’t want it to be left as just an idea, and this led to me founding LABiome-Tech.

How have your degrees helped you in your career?

My degrees equipped me with the fundamentals of problem solving and critical thinking. Moreover, the process of attaining these degrees created a space to draw on and process information deeply, while fostering relationships with like- minded individuals with similar professional interests. These friendships have been a source of inspiration and motivation.

What advice would you give to current students?

Make the most of your learning experience, foster healthy relationships, and always seek ways to improve yourself within and beyond the classroom. Know what makes you happy. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses (and work on improving them). Where the need for your strengths lies, is where you will perform the most.

How do you see Africa evolving when it comes to Biotech?

I believe Africa is the future, but we need to put in the work with the right intentions to harness its full potential. Biotech is at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it is projected that this will influence human lifestyles. The Bio Innovative space in Africa, although still at its infancy stage, is definitely one to look out for.

While we’ve got really cool ecosystems emerging that create great environments to nurture innovative start-ups, such as BioCiTi labs and Innovation City, building more talent to occupy these spaces and solve problems will speed up its growth. In the near future, I see solutions to problems we face on the continent and globally. We have the talent and the resources, we just need time to get it right, and we will. With easy access to information and the right mindset, there are no limitations. Developing and refining human potential is where the opportunity lies.

One of the key challenges to the development of bioinnovations is the capital and time frame requirements. We are fortunate to be able to harness tools and technologies to mitigate these barriers – for example, the application of artificial intelligence can bring down costs and reduce the time frames needed for development or clinical trials (in the case of healthcare).

What I deeply hope for is that, while a lot of brilliant talents move to more developed environments, for either improved standards of living or better career prospects, I hope that home is at the core of their hearts. And that there is willpower to channel experiences of knowledge and skills gained for the development of our continent.

It’s nice to see this happening already, where Africans are returning home to build the continent; however, there is room for this pace to be accelerated.