Remarks by President Ramaphosa at the media launch of the Covid-19 and cancer research initiative in partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and South African Medical Research Council
23 September 2021 - 12:00am
Minister Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation; Dr Phaahla, Minister of Health , Minister Patel, Trade , Industry and Competition .
CEO and founder of NantWorks, Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong
CEO of the CSIR, Dr. Thulani Dlamini
CEO and President of the South African Medical Research Council, Professor Glenda Gray,
CEO’s of Research Organizations,
Members of the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to begin by welcoming our son of Gqeberha, Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong.
I was very pleased to see your Wikipedia entry describing you as South AfricanAmerican, with the South African part sighted first.
You have flown our flag high, not just in the US but in the many corners of the globe where your company does business.
You are setting a great example to our many countrymen and women living abroad. We regularly get contacted by professionals in the South African diaspora who want to invest here, who want to give back, and who want to see their country prosper.
Without a doubt this investment is a game-changer. Minister Nzimande and team have worked tirelessly to ensure that a vision of this nature will become a reality.
Yesterday I participated in a Global COVID-19 Summit convened by President Biden of the US with a number of other Heads of State and philanthropists.
We discussed not just goals and targets for ending the current pandemic, but also what we need to do to prepare for the health emergencies of the future.
In this respect, the investment by NantWorks is most timely. For our fight against COVID-19, for infectious disease management, for cancer research and treatment, and for future pandemic preparedness.
This is the third significant pharmaceutical production investment in SA to be announced this year.
Three months ago the World Bank, France, Germany and the US committed to invest over R10-billion into Aspen Pharmacare to boost its production of COVID-19 vaccines for Africa. The WHO also chose South Africa to host an mRNA manufacturing hub with our own BioVac.
Cumulatively they will contribute to our collective ambition for the continent to manufacture 60 per cent of its vaccine needs by 2040.
It will also strengthen South Africa’s pharmaceuticals industry that is well-established but disadvantaged because we still import a large proportion of products, particularly active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).
The investment will have a multiplier effect on several fronts.
One, it will strengthen our capacity to clinically manage COVID-19, HIV/AIDS and TB, all diseases with a heavy health burden.
South Africa has the highest COVID-19 caseload in Africa, the largest number of people living with HIV and AIDS, and a massive TB problem.
We do have current treatment programmes for all of these, but COVID-19 has brought new challenges, not least of all resource constraints.
The setting up clinical centres of excellence will contribute to quality improvement in managing these other diseases.
Two, it will bolster our management of cancer.
The establishment of a Cancer Treatment and Research Centre by NANTAfrica at the University of the Witwatersrand comes at a time when the rates of cervical cancer are growing. The incidence rate of this particular cancer in South Africa is higher than the global average.
Through this initiative we also hope to train more oncologists in both the academic and state sectors that can be deployed where they are needed most.
Three, Dr. Soon- Shiong has identified excellent institutions with the capacity and capabilities to spread their technologies beyond our borders.
The Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation is setting up the largest genomics facility on the African continent. This Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation will enable Africa to improve the treatment, diagnosis and the prevention of human diseases.
The partnership between the CSIR and NANTWorks will build on the CSIR’s excellent scientific capabilities to manufacture biologics and vaccines. NANTAfrica has invested in a biologic manufacturing facility in the Western Cape and I look forward to the ribboncutting ceremony in three months’ time.
Four, this investment will facilitate technology and skills transfer, something we as African countries have long been making a case for in the fight against COVID-19 in particular. This will provide more opportunities for Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment and more opportunities for youth.
Through this partnership we will be able to develop products and infrastructure for manufacturing and drive innovation. It is aligned with the CSIR’s industrialisation focused strategy to create local technology-intensive industries.
Given that we import many of our pharmaceuticals, this initiative will greatly strengthen our localization efforts, thereby growing local industries and sectors.
This collaboration will lead to job creation and mitigate our unemployment crisis. We welcome the opportunity to develop high-end skills and create high-end jobs.
Six, this collaboration will address challenges beyond the health area, such as water desalination and atmospheric production of water. This will be critical given that we are a water-stressed country.
The partnership will also focus on renewable energy and battery storage, as well as on the production of bio-plastics and replacements for cement production.
The principle of self-reliance is at the heart of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
The NantWorks investment and the CSIR collaboration will bring us all the closer to not only meeting this key aspiration, but to achieving a number of the Sustainable Development Goals by the end of the decade.
I have no doubt that this collaboration will place South Africa, and Africa as a whole at the cutting edge of healthcare, science, technology and innovation.
Dr Soon-Shiong, you are to be commended for your confidence in your country’s and
Africa’s development. You have heeded the Thuma Mina call, and for this we thank you.
Thank you too to all who have been part of this launch, the NANTWorks team in the US, our team in the Presidency, and our partners at the CSIR and the SA Medical Research Council.
I thank you.