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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

The failure of the law
2004-06-04

 

Written by Lacea Loader

- Call for the protection of consumers’ and tax payers rights against corporate companies

An expert in commercial law has called for reforms to the Companies Act to protect the rights of consumers and investors.

“Consumers and tax payers are lulled into thinking the law protects them when it definitely does not,” said Prof Dines Gihwala this week during his inaugural lecture at the University of the Free State’s (UFS).

Prof Gihwala, vice-chairperson of the UFS Council, was inaugurated as extraordinary professor in commercial law at the UFS’s Faculty of Law.

He said that consumers, tax payers and shareholders think they can look to the law for an effective curb on the enormous power for ill that big business wields.

“Once the public is involved, the activities of big business must be controlled and regulated. It is the responsibility of the law to oversee and supervise such control and regulation,” said Prof Gihwala.

He said that, when undesirable consequences occur despite laws enacted specifically to prevent such results, it must be fair to suggest that the law has failed.

“The actual perpetrators of the undesirable behaviour seldom pay for it in any sense, not even when criminal conduct is involved. If directors of companies are criminally charged and convicted, the penalty is invariably a fine imposed on the company. So, ironically, it is the money of tax payers that is spent on investigating criminal conduct, formulating charges and ultimately prosecuting the culprits involved in corporate malpractice,” said Prof Gihwala.

According to Prof Gihwala the law continuously fails to hold companies meaningfully accountable to good and honest business values.

“Insider trading is a crime and, although legislation was introduced in 1998 to curb it, not a single successful criminal prosecution has taken place. While the law appears to be offering the public protection against unacceptable business behaviour, it does no such thing – the law cannot act as a deterrent if it is inadequate or not being enforced,” he said.

The government believed it was important to facilitate access to the country’s economic resources by those who had been denied it in the past. The Broad Based Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 (BBEE), is legislation to do just that. “We should be asking ourselves whether it is really possible for an individual, handicapped by the inequities of the past, to compete in the real business world even though the BBEE Act is now part of the law?,” said Prof Gihwala.

Prof Gihwala said that judges prefer to follow precedent instead of taking bold initiative. “Following precedent is safe at a personal level. To do so will elicit no outcry of disapproval and one’s professional reputation is protected. The law needs to evolve and it is the responsibility of the judiciary to see that it happens in an orderly fashion. Courts often take the easy way out, and when the opportunity to be bold and creative presents itself, it is ignored,” he said.

“Perhaps we are expecting too much from the courts. If changes are to be made to the level of protection to the investing public by the law, Parliament must play its proper role. It is desirable for Parliament to be proactive. Those tasked with the responsibility of rewriting our Companies Act should be bold and imaginative. They should remove once and for all those parts of our common law which frustrate the ideals of our Constitution, and in particular those which conflict with the principles of the BBEE Act,” said Prof Gihwala.

According to Prof Gihwala, the following reforms are necessary:

• establishing a unit that is part of the office of the Registrar of Companies to bolster a whole inspectorate in regard to companies’ affairs;
• companies who are liable to pay a fine or fines, should have the right to take action to recover that fine from those responsible for the conduct;
• and serious transgression of the law should allow for imprisonment only – there should be no room for the payment of fines.
 

Prof Gihwala ended the lecture by saying: “If the opportunity to re-work the Companies Act is not grabbed with both hands, we will witness yet another failure in the law. Even more people will come to believe that the law is stupid and that it has made fools of them. And that would be the worst possible news in our developing democracy, where we are struggling to ensure that the Rule of Law prevails and that every one of us has respect for the law”.

 

 

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