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.
Expression of viral proteins in plants - HPV
A Williamson, EP Rybicki, JM Maclean, II Becker-Hitzeroth
EP Patent 1,883,701 2012
WO Patent 2,006,119,516, 2006
US Patent app. 11/912,912, 2006
Expression of viral proteins in plants - Flu
A Williamson, EP Rybicki, JM Maclean, II Becker-Hitzeroth
Recombinant protein bodies as immunogen-specific adjuvants
EP Rybicki, AE Meyers, F Devesa, P Marzábal Luna, II Hitzeroth, P Öhlschläger
EP Patent 2,356,133, 2011
WO Patent 2,010,040,847, 2010
US Patent App. 13/123,510, 2009
Method for enhancing the expression of HPVL1
EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth
WO Patent 2,011,077,371; 2011
HPV Chimaeric Particle
EP Rybicki, II Hitzeroth
WO Patent 2,013,080,187; 2013
WO Patent App. PCT/IB2012/056,912; 2012
Prof Vernon Coyne, MCB
Brandon Weber, EM unit, UCT
Markus Sack, Fraunhofer Institute, Aachen, Germany
Prof Peter Öhlschläger, Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Aachen University of Applied Sciences, Aachen, Germany
Renate Lamprecht, Afrigen, South Africa
Milaid Granadillo & Isis Torrens, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Havana, Cuba
Eva Stöger & Elsa Arcalís, Department of Applied Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria
Marc-Andre D’Aoust, Medicago, Quebec, Canada
Bhudev Das, Amity Institute of Molecular Medicine & Stem Cell Research (AIMMSCR), Amity University Uttar Pradesh, India
Priya Debata, Department of Zoology, North Orissa University, Baripada, Odisha, 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
I received my PhD in Genetics at Stellenbosch University in 2013, where I constructed a synthetic version of a commonly found grapevine virus to be used as a biotechnological tool for various applications in the grapevine industry. I did my Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Biopharming Research Unit between 2013 and 2016, where I was involved in the production of various HPV-related proteins. I was part of the team that have for the first time successfully produced plant-based HPV-16 pseudovirions in plants, and I demonstrated that these plant-based pseudovirions could be used in virus neutralisation assays in mammalian cells.
I joined Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines in South Africa, in 2016, and I am currently the Veterinary Health Portfolio Manager. Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines (Pty) Ltd is a biotechnology start-up based in Cape Town, South Africa.
I currently hold an Honorary Research Affiliate position with the Biopharming Research Unit where I will continue to supervise post-graduate students in veterinary vaccine development projects using plant-based expression platforms.
Dr Megan Hendrikse
I am originally from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape where I completed my MSc at NMMU (Formerly UPE). After moving to Cape Town, I undertook my PhD in Medical Biochemistry in the receptor biology group (UCT Medical Campus).
I am currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Prof Ed Rybicki's lab where I will be conducting the L2-based pseudovirion neutralising assay to evaluate the immunogenicity of in-house produced Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.
Dr Alta van Zyl
I have been a member of the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) since starting my PhD in 2009. My PhD was focussed on the development of plant-based vaccine candidates for Bluetongue virus. My research interests focus on the expression of recombinant proteins in plants, particularly proteins that can be used as potential vaccine candidates in humans and animals. As a Post-doctoral fellow in the BRU I have worked on the development of a platform for the expression of Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine candidates in plants. My current research project focuses on the production of candidate vaccines against Lassa fever virus (LASV), Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV) and Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV).
I am from Nairobi, Kenya. I completed my BSc in Biochemistry and Microbiology from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and a BSc (Hons) in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of Cape Town (UCT). On completion of my Honours, I remained at UCT to do a MSc in the Biopharming Research Unit and upgraded to PhD. My PhD research focused on the development of potentially broadly protective prophylactic virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine candidates for Human papillomaviruses (HPV), and the production of synthetic HPV viruses for the delivery of a DNA vaccine.
My Post-Doctoral research project will explore the use of CRIPSR/cas genome editing tools for the treatment and cure of cervical cancer, caused by HPV.
Dr Sue Dennis
I 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.
During my undergraduate studies I became fascinated with virology and biotechnology and was naturally attracted to the Biopharming Research Unit to master both disciplines. My MSc project was on the development of a novel plant-made dual component vaccine against porcine circovirus (PCV). The project aimed to combine PCV-like particles and reporter plasmid DNA in plants to produce pseudovirions capable of delivering DNA into mammalian cells. After completing my MSc, I continued working in the unit to successfully publish in the Plant Biotechnology Journal and this work was used to secure an additional research grant to develop diagnostic assays for PCV. As scientific officer I have continued working on vaccine and diagnostic assay development providing support and regularly interacting with MSc and PhD students especially with the production of antigens for immunogenicity studies. I’m responsible for general consumable control, laboratory equipment maintenance and calibration as well as maintaining the unit’s plant growth rooms and mammalian tissue culture. I am a very dynamic and keen learner with a passion for expanding my skill set working independently or within a team.
I 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
I 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.
I grew up in Pretoria and completed both my BSc and BSc (Hons) at the University of Pretoria. After spending a year living in Amsterdam and travelling around Europe, I moved to Cape Town to pursue an MSc in the Biopharming Research Unit, under the supervision of Dr. Inga Hitzeroth, Prof. Ed Rybicki, and Dr. Ann Meyers.
The focus of my MSc project is the development of a prophylactic (and potentially therapeutic) vaccine against Bovine papillomavirus type-1, which has been implicated in numerous debilitating diseases and cancers in cattle and equids, including wild species such as zebra, giraffes, and sable antelope. The hope is that we will be able to produce vaccines against multiple BPV types.
Hendrik (Johann) Els
Originally from Johannesburg, I have done a BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch followed by Honours in Molecular Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town. My honours research entailed the production of recombinant Rotavirus virus-like particles in tobacco at the Biopharming Research Unit. My MSc project combines both molecular biology with bioprocess engineering done at the Centre for Bioprocess Engineering (CeBER). The research entails working with algae viruses for new genetic engineering techniques under the supervision of Prof Rybicki, Dr Hitzeroth and Dr Harrison (CeBER).
I completed my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Genetics at UCT in 2015. I then did my Honours degree in Molecular and Cell biology in the Biopharming Research Unit (BRU) and I am now doing my masters in the BRU under the supervision of Dr. Megan Hendrikse, Dr. Inga Hitzeroth and Prof Ed Rybicki. My Master’s project focuses on producing high yields of Human papillomavirus (HPV) pseudovirions in tobacco plants.
I'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.
I was born and raised in the northern part of Namibia. In 2013 I started my undergraduate studies in Bsc Microbiology (honours) at the University of Namibia, which I completed in 2016. My honours project focused on the antibacterial properties of plants. I then moved to South Africa to pursue Msc with the biopharming research unit at the University of Cape Town under the supervision of Dr Inga Hitzeroth, Dr Alta van Zyl and Dr Megan Hendrickse. My Master’s project focuses on the production of Human papillomavirus (HPV) universal L2-based pseudovirions in tobacco plants.
I completed my BSc in Genetics and Biochemistry at UCT. I then completed a BSc (Hons) in Molecular and Cell Biology department at UCT under the supervision of Prof. Nicola Illing, and my project focused on the extraction of ancient DNA from bones that have been excavated from South African archaeological sites.
I am currently a first year Masters student in the Biopharming Research Unit in the MCB department, under the supervision of Dr Inga Hitzeroth and Dr Renate Lamprecht. My project focuses on expressing and the purification of outer membrane proteins and an enzyme of the Brucella bacterium in plants for the development of a candidate subunit vaccine.
I 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
I 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.
I’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.
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
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of Cape Town