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Science comes together against COVID-19

By Dr Cindé Greyling 

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The university takes pride in the FARMOVS
team, which plays an important role in
COVID-19 activities.
Photo: Supplied


A unit of 150 employees across various disciplines ensures that FARMOVS delivers outstanding research and services. The university takes pride in this team, which plays an important role in COVID-19 activities under the leadership of CEO, Chris Sutherland. 

A formidable team

Generally, FARMOVS supports drug and vaccine developers with different aspects related to the development of their products. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, much of their focus shifted towards the pandemic. “We support a team of 10 medical specialists with trials on hospitalised patients, analyse blood samples from across the country, and measure levels of new drugs, to name a few of our direct involvements,”

“Since the COVID-19 outbreak,
much of FARMOVS' focus has shifted
to the pandemic.”

Dr Michelle Middle, Chief Medical Officer, explains FARMOVS’ deep dive into the corona world. They also expect vaccine development projects to begin in September 2020. 

Dr Middle is inspired by the collaboration of scientists across the globe. “We share information in real time, making unprecedented amounts of data available in a very short time. Because we share research plans, redundancies are reduced, and research is more cost-effective.” 

Building future outbreak resilience

Scientists saw this pandemic coming and have been warning about it for a while, Dr Middle explains. “Contributing to such outbreaks are our disregard for nature, climate change, urbanisation, overpopulation, lack of sanitation, and overuse of antimicrobials.” Although we carry much of the blame for the current situation, we also have the power to mitigate the recurrence of such an event. According to Dr Middle, we can learn from the past, invest more in research and system preparedness, ensure that each country has a pandemic preparedness plan, and focus more on community upliftment and development to decrease vulnerability.  

Dr Middle thinks that the COVID-19 pandemic reiterates the fact that we live in one world without division between nature and humans. “We should protect and respect nature and prepare and act as one world.”

The Veterinary Biotechnology research group in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the UFS also does COVID-19-related research. They believe that their research can  assist in the development of a vaccine. Although vaccine development is a long process, the sooner it  begins, the better, says UFS researcher Prof Robert Bragg. Liese Kilian from the research group substituted the genetic code of the infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) with the genetic code of the COVID-19 virus, which was already published at that stage. Thus, a gene for the development of a possible sub-unit vaccine against the S1 spike protein of COVID-19 was developed for expression in the sam yeast strain used to express the spike protein of IBV. A sub-unit vaccine can be described as part of a  pathogen, triggering an immune response against the pathogen from which it was derived.

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