AI and automations are on the rise, as well as big data and high-throughput processes, and scientists are moving more into designing and analysing roles.
What do you do?
I am a Quality Specialist and co- founder of a UCT spin-off company that produces recombinant proteins using a plant-based expression platform. The proteins we produce, antibodies and antigens, are used as research reagents by life scientists in University laboratories, as well as commercial and diagnostic laboratories.
As head of the Quality Control Team, I am focused on ensuring all proteins we produce are tested to ensure they meet specifications. I also manage our in-process testing to ensure each step of the production process is checked. In addition, we perform stability testing on all proteins produced to determine their stability at different temperatures, times and freezing/thawing conditions. As I am also part of the Quality Assurance Team, I manage our risk assessments conducted on all our processes as part of the risk-based thinking needed to maintain our ISO 13485 certification. I perform lab work, assisting with the analytical testing on our products – this includes ELISAs, Western Blots, NanoDrop, SDS-PAGE Coomassie gels, and Open SPR testing.
The in-process testing includes plant inspections and PCR testing of our GMO-bacteria. Finally, I manage the QC Team, so people management is also a big part of my role.
What has been a highlight of your career so far?
Achieving ISO13485 status was a huge achievement for the team, and one we are really proud of. Another highlight was being part of the team that pitched and secured FIND Grant Funding to allow us to expand our laboratories and team.
What advice would you give to current students?
Learn and find out who you are – what do you enjoy and what are your natural talents? What gives you energy and inspires you? Then focus on moving towards work that is in alignment with that. If you are a people person, then perhaps the Sales side of science would fulfil you. If you are an introvert, perhaps management is not for you, and you can be a technical whizz. Take the time to know who you are and what makes you tick. Then find what inspires you and your ‘why’ for what you do – it will give you fuel during the tough times.
How do you see your industry evolving in the future?
The biotech industry in South Africa and in Cape Town, I believe, is starting to flourish. We have many biotech companies growing – including BioVac, OneBio, Synexa, Afrigen, Afriplex and Biotech Africa, to name a few. In addition, a small biotech start-up from Salt River has now been bought out by pharmaceutical giant, Roche!
I see the Biotech ecosystem growing and starting to help each other. We are already partnering with local diagnostic test kit manufacturers to make lateral flow devices, as well as local ELISA test kit developers. I see the ecosystem starting to collaborate more and coming together to become stronger. AI and automations are on the rise, as well as big data and high-throughput processes, and scientists are moving more into designing and analysing roles.
For us, the next exciting sphere is protein engineering, where software can be used to design proteins that work even better! The plant- based system may seem new to some people, but it has been around for more than 30 years, and I see it gaining more widespread acceptance and the benefits of it really proving themselves in the next 10 years or so.