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Inga Hitzeroth | Biopharming Research Unit

Research | Publications | Patents | Collaborations | Lab members | News | Telephone: +27 21 650 5712 | Facsimile: +27 21 650 2646


I grew up in Namibia and studied in South Africa at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town from 1980 - 1986. I did my undergraduate studies in Microbiology and Biochemistry and my PhD on hake population genetics while working for Sea Fisheries in Cape Town. My post-doctoral years I spent at medical school at UCT working on gonadotropin releasing hormone. In 2000 I started to work in Prof Rybicki’s group in a then very new and novel field of expression of viral proteins in plants.


We are specifically working on production of vaccine candidates against Human papillomavirus (HPV) and development of second generation vaccines that will be cheaper by production in plants and will protect against more than one type of HPV. HPV is the cause of cervical cancer the second most prevalent cancer in women in developing countries.
Other diseases that we are working on are: rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhoea in children; Beak and Feather Disease Virus (BFDV) which causes Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) in all psittacine birds (parrots); and Avian influenza.
The research that I have been involved in over the last thirteen years has come a long way from just being an idea to produce viral proteins in plants to becoming a reality with proteins being expressed in high enough levels to make it feasible to produce them as vaccines.

Virus graphics courtesy of Russell Kightley


Plant Produced PCV Pseudovirion (2018)
Rybicki, Edward Peter. Hitzeroth, Inga Isabel, Regnard, Guy Louis, PA169568/P
Provisional and PCT filed 2019, National phase ZA, US

Extracellular Assembly of Virus Like Particles (2020)
Dennis, Susan Jennifer, Meyers, Ann Elizabeth, Hitzeroth, Inga Isabel, Rybicki, Edward Peter PA172961/P 
Provisional filed

Plant Produced Bovine Papillomavirus Virus-Like Particles and Pseudovirions (2020)
Rybicki, Edward Peter; Van Zyl, Albertha René, Hitzeroth, Inga Isabel; Pietersen, Inge PA173571/P
Provisional filed in ZA and GB

Expression of viral proteins in plants – HPV (2005)
A Williamson, EP Rybicki, JM Maclean, II Becker-Hitzeroth, PA139480, US20130130314A1, EP2374892A2
Granted in China, Germany, Europe, Spain, France, United Kingdom, India, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, US, SA.

Expression of viral proteins in plants – Flu (2009)
A Williamson, EP Rybicki, JM Maclean, II Becker-Hitzeroth, PA139480, WO2006119516A2, EP1883701B1
Granted in US, China, SA, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Greece, India, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and validated in Europe.

HPV Chimaeric Particle (small VLP) (2011)
EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth, PA154565, US20140377367A1, EP2785842A4
Filed in Philippines, Europe, Thailand, Canada, Australia, SA, Japan, Korea, United Arab Emirates, Israel, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Japan.
Granted in US, China, Russia, New Zealand

Production of a Horseradish Peroxidase-IgG Fusion Protein (2016)
EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth, EA Meyers, PA165327, WO2017203426A1
Filed in ZA, GB, EP, CN, JP, US

HPV Pseudovirions (2013)
EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth PA158146, EP3024937, US20160168583A1
Granted in ZA, US, EP, DE, filed in FR, GB, ES, IT, CA, PC

Rotavirus Virus-like particle production in plants (2012)
EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth, DLR Mutepfa EP2847324B1 (PCT No WO2013166609A1)
Filed in US, Korea, 
Granted in Europe, China, Canada, Denmark, Spain
Applicant Medicago

Recombinant protein bodies as immunogen-specific adjuvants (2008)
EP Rybicki, AE Meyers, F Devesa, P Marzábal Luna, II Hitzeroth, P Öhlschläger; PCT No WO2010040847A3, EP2356133A2, KR20110084906A, JP5667062B2
Filed in Europe, Korea 
Granted in Japan, US
Applicant ERA Biotech


Local collaborators
Prof. Vernon Coyne and Prof. Jill Farrant MCB, UCT
Carryn Fenner, Afrigen, South Africa
Dr Thanos Kotsiopoulos, Chemical Engineering, UCT
Dr Georgia Schafer, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), UCT

International collaborators 
Prof. Bhudev Das, Amity Institute of Molecular Medicine & Stem Cell Research (AIMMSCR), Amity University Uttar Pradesh, India
Assoc. Prof. Priya Debata, Department of Zoology, North Orissa University, Baripada, India; 
Prof. Hu Zheng, Department of Gynecological Oncology, The First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University, Guangdong, China; 
Prof. Konstantin Severinov, Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Moscow, Russia; 
Dr Tomas Moravec, Laboratory of Virology, Institute of Experimental Botany, Prague, Czech Republic; 
Dr Sanjay Ram and Dr Aleyo Chabeda, Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, USA.
Markus Sack, Aachen, Germany; 
Prof. Peter Öhlschläger, Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Aachen University of Applied Sciences, Aachen, Germany; 
Milaid Granadillo and Isis Torrens, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Havana, Cuba; 
Prof. Eva Stöger and Elsa Arcalís, Department of Applied Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria; 
Dr Marc-Andre D’Aoust, Medicago, Quebec, Canada; 

Lab members
Dr Sandiswa MbewanaMore information
Junior Research Fellow
More informationDr Alta van Zyl
Junior Research Fellow
Dr Sue DennisMore information
Post-doctoral fellow
Buyani NdlovuMore information
PhD student
Melie Mélie BuyseMore information
PhD student
Goodman Mulondo More information
PhD student
Lekita SinghMore information
PhD student
Asanda MatisoMore information
MSc student
Tim PlasketMore information
MSc student
Gloria LuhangaMore information
MSc student 
Aune Angobe More information
MSc student
Amy EdwardsMore information
MSc student
Dr Sandiswa Mbewana
Junior Research Fellow

I am a Biotechnologist specializing in Plant Biotechnology.  My Bsc Biotechnology degree was obtained at the University of the Western Cape in 2005. My post graduate studies (BSc Hons and MSc in Wine biotechnology) were completed at Stellenbosch University. My MSc was on the analysis of possible fungal resistance phenotype in transgenic tobacco plants over-expressing the native cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase gene.  The key study area was Grapevine biotechnology focusing on disease resistance. 

Since 2008 I have been working as a Scientific Officer in the plant based vaccine group. My project was on the development of an avian influenza virus (H5N1) vaccine using plants and insect cell expression system. I completed my PhD 2017 on the development of Rift Valley Fever Virus vaccine in plants. I was a Carnegie International Postdoc Fellow from 2017 to 2020 and I have been recently appointed as a Carnegie DEAL Junior Research Follow. My research focuses on the production of valuable pharmaceuticals in plants, particularly vaccine candidates and diagnostic reagents.  My work has been on Influenza virus, Rift Valley Fever and Bluetongue orbiviruses.  Other projects I have been involved in include the production of diagnostic reagents for Shuni virus.

Dr Alta van Zyl
Junior Research Fellow

AltaI received my PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town in 2014. My PhD focussed on the development of plant-based vaccine candidates for Bluetongue virus.  Currently I’m a Junior Research Fellow in the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU). My research interests centre around the expression of recombinant proteins in plants and in cell culture, particularly proteins that can be used as potential vaccine candidates for humans and animals. 

I have a keen interest in human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine research and have worked on the development of a platform for the expression of HPV vaccine candidates in plants. I have extensive experience in the production and purification of papilloma virus-like particles (VLPs) and pseudovirions (PsVs) in plants. Other projects I am involved in include the production of VLPs and recombinant proteins for bovine papillomavirus, porcine circovirus and beak and feather disease virus; all of these are of great interest in the animal health sector. 


Dr Sue Dennis
Post-doctoral fellow
Sue DennisI completed my undergraduate studies at Stellenbosch University in 1985 followed by an Honours degree in Molecular Biology in 1986. I moved to Pretoria in 1987 to work on Bluetongue Virus at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute and while there, obtained an MSc degree in 1990 from the University of Pretoria. The next 25 years were spent assisting my husband, David, with the administration of his medical practice and being a Mom to our four children.

I registered for a PhD in 2015 in Prof Rybicki's Biopharming Research Unit working on the development of safe and cost effective VLP candidate vaccines against African horse sickness and graduated in July 2019. I am currently a post-doctoral research fellow in the BRU under the supervision of Prof Ed Rybicki, Assoc Prof Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Ann Meyers, where I am continuing to work with AHSV vaccine development while co-supervising other students on the project.
Mélie Buyse
PhD student
Melie BuyseI am a Belgian Vet. I completed my Masters in Veterinary Science at Ghent University 2010. I then went on to open my own veterinary practice. After 4 years of running my own business I decided I wanted to further my studies and embark on obtaining my PhD. I was particularly interested in vaccine development as I had years of experience using the medication and identified a gap for new and improved vaccines. I came across the Biopharming Research Unit and I then knew that this would be the ideal environment for me to be able to contribute in this industry. I then packed up my entire life in one suitcase and made the move to Cape Town. My PhD is based on developing a vaccine for Beak and Feather Disease Virus. I will be working under the supervision of Dr. Inga Hitzeroth and Prof. Ed Rybicki.
Buyani Ndlovu 
PhD student
Dylan StevensI was born and raised in Ladysmith, a small town in northern KwaZulu-Natal. I completed a BSc (Biological Science) and BSc Hons (Cell Biology) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and later obtained an MSc (Wine Biotechnology) at Stellenbosch University.
I am currently enrolled for a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology, working with Prof Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Aleyo Chabeda of Biopharming Research Unit. My research project focuses on developing replicating plant virus vectors for transient expression of recombinant proteins in plants.
Goodman Mulondo
PhD student
I am originally from Venda (Malamangwa Village). I completed my BSc, Honours and Masters degree at the University of Venda.  My honours project was based on the evaluation of the Qiagen DNA mini kit (commercial) against a standardized in-house extraction method for E. coli DNA from water samples, and my MSc project was based on the molecular characterization of Norovirus Strains isolated from older children and adults in impoverished communities of Vhembe District, South Africa. I first joined Biopharming Research Unit in 2019 as a DST-NRF intern. I am currently doing a PhD in the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU), under the supervision of A/Prof Inga Hitzeroth, Dr Ann Meyers and Dr Sandiswa Mbewana. The focus of my work is on the development of a purification protocol for specific VLPs by utilising immobilised VLP-specific antibodies harvested from quail’s eggs. 
Lekita Singh
PhD student
I completed a BSc degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I then went on to complete a BSc Honours and an MSc specializing in Microbiology. My MSc research focused on the crisis of antibiotic resistant bacteria found in the environment, and its impact on life forms. I thereafter received an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship to complete an MSc (Bioinformatics, Biomathematics and Computational Biology) exchange program at the University of Bologna, Italy. After these years of research, I chose to gain industry experience and relocated to Cape Town where I fulfilled the role of Senior Manager at a manufacturing company. I was then offered full funding and am presently enrolled for a PhD within the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. My research is focused on utilizing Bioinformatics as a tool in new drug discovery and development by eliciting an immune response related to specific SARS-Cov-2 proteins.  
Asanda Matiso
MSc student
AsandaI'm originally from King William's Town in the Eastern Cape. I completed my National diploma in Biotechnology (2010 - 2012) and BTech degree in Biomedical Technology (2013 - 2014) at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. I first joined BRU in April 2016 as a NRF intern. I am currently pursuing my MSc under the supervision of Dr Ann Meyers, Dr Inga Hitzeroth and Prof Ed Rybicki. My project focuses on the use of a mouse phage display library to generate single chain variable fragments (scFvs) antibodies against Ribulose-1,5-biphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase or RuBisCO which is regarded as the main potential contaminant in plant produced proteins.
Tim Plasket
MSc student
TimI grew up in Grahamstown in the Estern Cape. I moved to Cape Town to study at UCT in 2014. I completed my BSc with majors in Biochemistry and Genetics in 2016, which I then followed with a BSc(Hons) in Molecular and Cell Biology in 2017.
I am currently in the Biopharming Research Unit studying towards my MSc under the supervision of Dr Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Rosemary Meggersee. My project focuses on the African Horse Sickness Virus (AHSV), a midge-borne disease which severely affects equids in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am particularly interested in generating antibody-like molecules (short chain variable fragments or ScFvs) derived from a phage display library which are specific to AHSV serotype 5.
Aune Angobe
MSc student
AuneI grew up in the northern part of Namibia and moved to Windhoek to pursue BSc in Microbiology (honours) at the University of Namibia. My honours project focused on Anti-plasmodium activities in Selected Namibian herbs. In 2019 I moved to Cape Town to pursue Masters at the University of Cape Town. My project focuses on developing a plant-made immunoassay for the detection of porcine circovirus antibodies in South African Swine herds.
Gloria Luhanga
MSc student
GloriaI’m originally from Malawi. I acquired my undergraduate degree in Biomedicine (2015-2017) at Pearson Institute of Higher education in Midrand, South Africa. I later proceeded to do my Honours degree at the University of Cape Town and graduated with a BMedSc (Hons) in Medical Cell Biology (2018).
I’m currently pursuing my MSc in Molecular and Cell Biology in the BRU lab, with the supervision of Dr Inga Hitzeroth, Dr Ann Meyers and Dr Sue Dennis. My project focuses on investigating the production of a multivalent African horse sickness virus (AHSV) vaccine candidate. This will allow me to produce a vaccine which contains at least more than one VP2 domains (immunogenic component on the AHSV structure) from the nine known AHSV serotypes.
Amy Edwards
MSc student
MulondoMy academic career started at the University of Cape Town in 2015 where I discovered my passion for Microbiology while majoring in Genetics and Biochemistry. I completed my undergraduate studies and joined the Biopharming Research Unit in 2019 during my Honours year where I worked to develop a Bovine papillomavirus vaccine candidate in plants under the supervision of Dr Alta van Zyl and Associate Professor Inga Hitzeroth. This project ignited my love of Virology and Vaccinology and led to my pursuit of an MSc project in BRU. I am currently working to develop a therapeutic human papillomavirus vaccine based on the technology developed during my Honours year once again under the supervision of Dr Alta van Zyl and A/Prof Inga Hitzeroth.

BRU eNCA news clip
This is a short clip from eNCA news in February 2016, describing the making of human papillomavirus pseudovirions in plants by the University of Cape Town's Biopharming Research Unit. This follows a press release on the publication of a paper describing the achievement in the journal, Nature Scientific Reports.

BRU press release: February 2016
An article from the SABC website - Your next DNA vaccine might come from tobacco. Download the pdf.​

Bru: The Movie!

Front page article in SA Journal of Science September/October 2013