Africa’s biotechnology industry expected to continue growing

October 26, 2017

New data shows biotechnology in Africa has grown at an average of 2.1% per year for the last five years but the continent need to swiftly work to build up a strong medical big data system as it will form the backbone of future medicine led by personalized and predictive health care. With an increase in the demand for biotech products like human therapeutics and diagnostics, research authors expect to see continued growth given the right policy settings in the coming years. Still relatively young, biotech presents a unique opportunity for African governments who invest early and aggressively in this industry to transform their economies. As a future-facing industry, biotech will create high paying jobs in the knowledge and advanced manufacturing sectors. For a region like Africa, with a young and well educated, improving regulatory environment and a fair amount of entrepreneurial spirit, biotechnology represents a unique opportunity for African economic transformation. While our services sectors like telecom, tourism and banking sectors are strong, they mask the plight of many other industries that are struggling across Africa where recent jobs growth has at best been declining for over a decade. African countries needs a concerted and coordinated effort to invest in the next industry in which they can excel. Several problems that researchers have identified in the industry includes a lack of pace through the development channels, a lack of clear policy direction by African countries. Also mentioned is the fact that the industry is not currently attracting heavy investments like other industries. African countries cannot afford to stall as the rest of the world is moving quickly, and only way is for the region to counter their efforts to ensure it reaps the rewards from a strong biotechnology industry. The sector is expected to grow at a rate of 3.9 per cent a year until 2025 when the sector’s projected growth in terms of revenues and industry value added is expected to reach $14 billion. African researchers have been calling for the adoption of new agricultural technology to protect the industry from climate change.More than 80 percent of farming-reliant countries in Africa would feel the impact of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns that could threaten food security. That’s why researchers have been sending out the message that all African countries, particularly agrarian ones, must adopt policies to increase their productivity. One such government policy in South Africa is targeting the creation of a 5 million ton maize surplus in 2018.That, in turn, means carrying out programs such as reducing per capita rice consumption by 2 percent, expanding land for maize acreage, expanding irrigation networks by 20 percent, and reducing crop waste by 2 percent. Rapid advancements in new fields of science and engineering have facilitated new innovations in the biomedical domain in Africa with South Africa, Morocco being at the forefront, and there’s also an increasing convergence between physical and biological technology platforms.

Such advancements in Africa’s biotechnology sector offer substantial investment opportunities, and this is only expected to increase as healthcare spending continues to grow with ageing population and increased demand for new healthcare products and techniques.Report authors argue that, in many cases, biotechnology offers a subtle biological approach to an industry or medical problem which brings reduced dependence on harmful synthetic chemicals such as pesticides or harsh drugs. There’s no argument that Africa’s agricultural innovations would be needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.In one case pointed out, African researchers are working on various initiatives including the development of microbes to boost soil acidity and improve crop yields. Another program is the breeding of nilefish, a freshwater fish, to be able to adapt to more saline conditions, in anticipation of increased salinity in rivers in Lake Victoria.Africa need technology to support its efforts for food security, particularly when faced with the threats from climate change.Researchers identified some of the potential threats as an increase in pest populations, crop failures as a result of dry and rainy seasons that were increasingly out of sync, and degradation of farmland.African countries need to invest heavily in a range of technology research to address these risks.That includes genetic engineering to create crop cultivars that are more adaptable to the changing conditions, and technology for the management of land and water. Another interesting finding is how large-scale datasets collected from biomedical sensors will be combined with artificial intelligence computing technologies to enable early diagnosis of diseases and guide treatment planning. The genomic and disease-related datasets collected from millions of Africans will be analyzed via artificial intelligence technologies to predict disease. And in the next five years, the medical data analytics sector will grow bigger according to the research with South Africa and Morocco leading the way.Researchers also detailed big data’s role and importance in transforming the life sciences sector across Africa where there’s accumulation of diagnostics information at an ever-increasing rate through health sensors and genomic sequencing to medical records and individual lifestyle habits.The accumulation of biomedical big data will enable personalized medicine as well as make new drug development including clinical trials more efficient like has been the case with ARV drugs in South Africa and new malaria drug in East Africa.With rising demand for big data aggregation and analytic tools, African data science platform market is expected to grow.Biotechnology is a field of boundless possibilities for African countries and holds the potential to solve hunger, and minimizing climate change impact. Products resulting from biotechnology in Africa are already allowing humans to live longer, healthier lives, to be more environmentally sustainable and to produce more with fewer resources. In my view, biotechnology is equivalent today to what personal computing was three decades ago sitting on the precipice of exponential growth and African countries cant afford to be left behind.

Contador Harrison