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Biopharming Research Unit

Biopharming Research Unit

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The Biopharming Research Unit - affectionately known to its members as 'The Bru' - was accredited by the Senate Executive Committee at the University of Cape Town in September 2013. The new Unit is based in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, and comprises the research groups led by Professor Ed Rybicki, who is the Director.

The BRU has as its central mission the expression of pharmaceutically relevant recombinant proteins in plants and insect cells, and a side mission in engineering virus resistance in maize and other crops. Members of the Unit are inventors on possibly the largest portfolio of patents at UCT, and the largest molecular biotechnology portfolio in South Africa.
Principal projects right now are the production of pandemic and potentially pandemic influenza vaccines, candidate vaccines to against bluetongue virus of ruminants, and chimaeric papillomavirus vaccines.

Funding: The group was supported by two consecutive NRF Innovation Fund awards for human papillomavirus vaccine development, as well as three consecutive SA AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI) grants for HIV vaccines in the last 12 years.  We have also been funded by the Poliomyelitis Research Foundation (PRF), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), the European Commission Frameworks 6 and 7 (FP6 and FP7), and Era Biotech (SA) of Spain. 

Students: The group has an impressive record in training postgraduate students: over 40 Honours projects, 11 MSc and 18 PhD graduates have been produced over 25 years, with about a third of these specifically trained since 1997 in projects related to biopharming.

Publications: The group has published some 51 papers since 1997 on projects related to biopharming, including several world-leading breakthroughs such as the first proof of efficacy of a plant-produced papillomavirus vaccine.