Govt rolls out biotech plan

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The Department of Science and Technology plans to spend a total of R450 million by the end of the 2005/06 financial year on supporting biotechnology research. Expectations are that this expenditure will increase dramatically.

Yesterday, science and technology minister Mosibudi Mangena launched a policy for the development of biotechnology. The minister referred to the Biotechnology Platforms Document that outlines the key sectors, capacities, existing opportunities and technology requirements needed to grow this sector.

Separately, Ben Durham, the department`s GM for biotechnology platforms, told ITWeb that it spent R150 million last year on supporting biotechnology research projects and expects to spend another R160 million in the next financial year.

Durham said the spending in the 2002/03 financial year focused mainly on setting up Biotechnology Regional Investment Centres (BRICs) to support and incubate research in this arena.

Building BRICs

The three BRICs are the Western Cape Biotech Institute, the Lifelab in Durban and Biopad, which covers research initiatives in the central and northern areas of the country.

Included in the total budget of R450 million is R40 million that has been earmarked for funding the National Bio-Informatics Network - a Cray supercomputer based at the University of the Western Cape.

"The expenditure so far is just a drop in the ocean. We have to dramatically expand it if we are to deliver services and products to the citizens of the country and to effectively compete with other international players," Durham said.

Mangena said yesterday that the country must develop South African intellectual property that is locally relevant and globally competitive.

"We also need to promote an active and effective innovation process where good ideas can be developed," the minister said.

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