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13 May 2019 | Story Zama Feni | Photo Charl Devenish
Dr Quinton Meyer and Marlena Visagie
National Control Laboratory Deputy Director, Dr Quinton Meyer (right), and Marlena Visagie, Quality Assurance Manager, at the laboratory within their facilities at the University of the Free State.

The University of the Free State-based National Control Laboratory for Biological Products (NCL) has maintained its esteemed status as a pharmaceutical testing laboratory after the South African Accreditation System (SANAS) further endorsed its quality-management systems as of high standard according to the International Standards Organisation’s requirements.

The Director of the NCL, Professor Derek Litthauer, said their laboratory – which is also approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – has again achieved the international testing standards. The cherry on top was that the NCL also received a certificate of Good Manufacturing Compliance (GMP) from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). 

NCL is for Africa and the World 

Some of the factors that make the NCL an esteemed institution, is the fact that it is one of 12 laboratories worldwide to perform vaccine testing for the WHO; the NCL is the only vaccine-testing laboratory in the country that performs the final quality-control testing of all human vaccine batches marketed in South Africa on behalf of SAHPRA. 

For example, Prof Litthauer said that the influenza vaccine batches currently available on the South African market, were tested by the NCL for quality before authorising their release for sale to the public. This process is followed for all human vaccines used in SA.

 “In our role as vaccine-testing laboratory for the WHO, the NCL helps to ensure that the vaccines purchased through the WHO prequalification programme for international distribution to resource-limited countries, meet the high standards of quality, safety, and efficiency. 
The NCL was one of the first full members of the WHO NCL Network for Biologicals, which consists of full and associate members of regulatory authorities from more than 30 countries.

The NCL systems are world-class

Prof Litthauer said this achievement is recognition that their laboratory complies with specific international standards with respect to its quality-management system. 
“In practice, it means that the laboratory has all the quality systems in place to ensure high-quality test results. The GMP certification is a further step, meaning that laboratory testing is on the expected level for any pharmaceutical testing laboratory and manufacturer. It is a very strict certification.”

He further mentioned that the NCL is also licensed as a pharmaceutical manufacturer. “Although we do not manufacture, we have to comply with manufacturing standards.”
“It is rare for a pharmaceutical testing laboratory (such as the NCL) outside of a manufacturing context to qualify for both certifications. It means that the NCL complies with exceptionally strict standards for pharmaceutical labs anywhere in the world,” he said.
The certification provides the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, the World Health Organisation, and other national control laboratories around the world, with the confidence that the test results from the NCL can be trusted.


There can be no compromise for quality 

The NCL Quality Assurance Manager, Mrs Marlena Visagie, said, “It is essential that the NCL complies with the highest international quality-assurance standards to ensure that all the lot-release operations, such as manufacturing review and quality testing, are performed in a reliable and reproducible manner.”

“There can be no compromise when it comes to the quality of medicines which are made available to the public,” she said.

“What makes this special, is that the NCL does not only comply with international ISO/IEC standards for pharmaceutical testing, but also with the additional GMP standards required by a pharmaceutical manufacturer. This means that the NCL must ensure that all its operations, including everything from the way documents are compiled and stored, to the maintenance of equipment and infrastructure as well as staff competency, are performed according to international guidelines.”

All NCL staff share vision of excellence

Prof Litthauer said the NCL has a staff complement of 15 technical, administrative, and support staff.  Four staff members have PhDs, and the rest of the technical staff have master’s or bachelor’s degrees or are trained as medical technologists. “At the moment, our biggest problem is to get enough suitable space to expand our testing,” he said.

Prof Litthauer said, “All the staff members at the NCL share the vision of excellence, which makes this kind of achievement possible.”
The NCL will host the third annual meeting of the WHO NCL Network in November of this year and will then be reassessed again by the WHO as part of the normal three-year cycle of assessments.  

News Archive

R2,5 million received from FNB Fund for Universal Access and Disability Support
2017-10-18

Description: FNB CUADS Funding Tags: FNB CUADS Funding
Tinotenda Magaya (left at the back), Robert Shoba and
Manus van Rooyen are some of the CUADS students
who will benefit from the money donated by the FNB Fund.
In front are Martie Miranda (left), Head of CUADS, and
Thandeka Rantsi from the FNB Fund.
Photo: Jóhann Thormählen

Funding isn’t only about giving money to provide access to education. There are many factors that contribute to the successful completion of studies, and this is even more applicable to students with disabilities. 

That is why the FNB Fund decided to continue and further its relationship with the Center for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS) at the University of the Free State (UFS). The fund recently donated nearly R2.5 million for 2017, 2018, and 2019 to CUADS in order to assist students with tuition fees, study material, accommodation and supportive devices. 

A total of 11 students will benefit from the R 2 497 440. The UFS previously received R200 000 (2014), R238 000 (2015), and R192 500 (2016) from the FNB Fund.

“The FNB Fund would like to take it
a step further and not only provide
access in terms of funding, but also
provide all the support that
students require to be able
to complete their studies.”

Funders should be aware of challenges

“The FNB Fund would like to take it a step further and not only provide access in terms of funding, but also provide all the necessary support that students require to be able to complete their studies,” says Thandeka Rantsi from the FNB Fund.

The fund also partners with disability units from the University of Stellenbosch, the University of the Western Cape, and the University of Cape Town.

Rantsi says funders should be aware of the challenges students with disabilities face in order to provide the right support as their challenges are more extensive.

More flexible funding than others

Martie Miranda, Head of CUADS, says they are very grateful. “In comparison with other funding, this funding provides more flexibility. Because of the gap between government funding and students’ needs, there are always students who fall out of the criteria for the NSFAS bursary. Then the FNB funding comes in very handy.”

According to her, government funding is never enough. She says the FNB funding enables them to address specific needs such as equipment, accommodation etc. as they have more leeway than prescribed NSFAS amounts.

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