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22 April 2020
UWC Alumnus Develop Swift COVID-19 Testing Kit

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) prides itself on producing graduates who go out to address some of the most pressing issues in society, and rising entrepreneurial star Daniel Ndima has done just that with resounding success.

Ndima, and his business partner Dineo Lioma at CapeBio Technologies, has developed a local testing kit for coronavirus – called qPCR – that will cut the waiting time for the results by about 64%. Currently, it usually takes up to three hours to get results, but their qPCR kit will reduce that time to just 65 minutes.

It has been reported that about 5 000 tests are conducted in South Africa, and the new kit could help to increase the figure significantly. And, as a locally manufactured product, the new test kit can mitigate the reliance on overseas imports and is much cheaper.

“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,” Ndima – who graduated with his biotechnology degree at UWC in 2012 and honours a year later – was quoted by AllAfrica.

“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. One of our major challenges is our reliance on imported tests. 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.”

The qPCR testing kit is still undergoing government’s industry-based regulatory processes for compliance before it can be rolled out. The product is scheduled to be launched in June if everything goes according to plans. “We are allowing the regulatory processes to unfold so that we are able to manufacture a technology that is recognised with both local and international standards,” Ndima, who received the Vice-Chancellor’s Award in 2013, told UWC Media yesterday.

The kit is not the only one that Ndima and his team at CapeBio have developed. Comprising scientists – many of whom have Master’s degrees – the company was heavily involved in the production of molecular biology reagents, enzymes and kits which were used at universities as well as research councils and companies in South Africa and the United States. These kits play a vital role in determining the importance and function of certain genes in human beings, animals, microbes and plants.

Born in the Eastern Cape and grew up in Cape Town, he was an active student on campus. He played for the UWC soccer team, was involved in the Centre for Student Support Services’ mentoring programme, student orientation, and he worked in the Res Life, among other things.

It was also on campus where his business acumen was sparked and polished. As a student, he established three start-ups companies –two of which were successful. “It was just for me to learn business dynamics. I was working towards starting up a biotech company.”

One of the organisations he founded is called Achievers Elevation Foundation, which recruits Grade 12 learners in townships and rural areas and assists them in gaining access to tertiary education.

“A lot of potential in me was unlocked at UWC in terms of me coming up with a dream of starting a biotech company. I did biotech studies so that I can venture into business. The field at the time was becoming popular and had lots of gaps we black people could fill.

“UWC was so open on many fronts to collaborate with the programmes I was running as a student. The Department of Biotechnology, in particular, was very instrumental with a number of lectures very motivational. I’m still connected to many lecturers who act as mentors for me in the industry. We are still a family, and we share quite a lot on different platforms. I believe that the hominess and the friendliness of UWC enabled me to dream big.”