Stellenbosch University and SA company joins global fight against Covid-19

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Published Mar 30, 2020


CAPE TOWN - Stellenbosch University (SU) and AzarGen Biotechnologies, a local South African biotechnology company focused on developing human therapeutic proteins using advanced genetic engineering and synthetic biology techniques in plants, have joined forces in the global fight against the coronavirus.

The collaboration will see the partners further develop SynSurf, a to be tested as a supportive agent for the treatment of Acute/Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

ARDS has been cited as one of the major reasons that Covid-19 patients become critically ill and sometimes die.

SynSurf was initially developed and tested (preclinically) for the treatment of neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome (nRDS), a condition where some premature babies struggle to breathe due to collapsed lung sacs, as well as treatment for acute lung injury in adults.

SynSurf was developed by a team led by Profs Johan Smith, Johan van Zyl and Pieter van der Bijl of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Science.

From AzarGen Biotechnologies’ side, the collaborative team will be complemented by co-founders Drs Mauritz Venter and Cobus Zwiegelaar.

“Since commercially available surfactant is very expensive, its cost has to date precluded adult patients from being treated. SynSurf is composed of pure chemical substances which overcomes the cost issue to a great extent. SynSurf in experimental animals has not shown any toxicity or adverse effects,” said Smith.

It still requires testing in humans and if the laboratory tests and experimental work are any indication, the product has huge potential to ameliorate and/or treat both new-born and adult lung conditions, he added.


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