On the sidelines of the Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication (ABBC 2023) Symposium, the DrumBeat team caught up with Stephane Fadanka, a molecular biologist and open science ambassador from Cameroon. Stephane is passionate about enhancing equity for researchers by democratizing research tools and methods. He has been developing contextualised protocols, hardware prototypes and manufacturing processes for local enzyme production in his country. He has professional experience as a researcher and Research Manager for the UK-based social enterprise Beneficial Bio, leading a five-strong R&D team at the first enzyme bio-manufacturing start-up to be founded in Cameroon in addition to acting as the Executive Director of MboaLab Biotech which hosts this work. Stephane has also been actively collaborating with multidisciplinary research groups, networks, and organizations including the Open Bio-economy Lab, Reclone, SynBio Africa, TReND in Africa and APSOHA, an association that promotes science in French-speaking Africa. He shares his triumphant story of science.
- Take us through your journey into the world of biosciences
My journey into bioscience has been shaped by a dynamic blend of passion, strategic choices, and opportunities. Fueled by a profound interest in life sciences and a commitment to impactful innovations that directly improve people’s living conditions, my academic path has been meticulously crafted to establish the groundwork for a career in Molecular Biology research. With a specific focus on screening novel, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly biologically active compounds from microorganisms. Early on, I realized the transformative power of applied research and the crucial role of an enabling ecosystem in fostering impactful innovations. I recognized the vast untapped potential of microorganisms, particularly in resource-limited settings where dependence on external resources often limits scientific progress. The lack of access to essential tools and resources, particularly costly and unstable reagents, became the greatest puzzle I sought to solve. With extensive support from key organizations and individuals, my journey as an interdisciplinary scientist and young professional began, marked by transformative achievements in biotechnology and community engagement.
- How did you address the challenge of restricted access to reagents?
Over the past five years, my focus has extended to developing contextualised protocols and applying cost-effective manufacturing methods for local enzyme production in Cameroon. Simultaneously, we established Mboalab Biotech with the mission to make Innovation and biotechnology research tools more accessible to people and organizations in Cameroon and Africa. As a pioneer in protein production in Cameroon and the first company to establish a complete biomanufacturing and R&D unit in the country, Mboalab Biotech has played a pivotal role in the development of the local biotechnology sector.
- What three key lessons have you learnt in running a biotech lab?
The cornerstone of success in the biotech journey is the deep understanding of the unique landscape of each locality. This involves discerning local needs, expectations, and resource limitations, recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach falls short in the diverse world of biotechnology. By immersing in the intricacies of each community, it is possible to gain valuable insights critical to tailor innovations to meet specific requirements. This tailored approach allows the development of solutions that are both effective and sustainable.
I have also learnt that collaboration is a key catalyst for progress. Our experience and journey at Mboalab Biotech is a testament to the transformative power of collaboration. Global collaboration and partnership has been a defining factor in overcoming challenges and driving progress in our biotech company.
Involvement of policy makers and other stakeholders has proven crucial. By engaging policymakers, diverse stakeholders, and the public, it is possible to build a supportive and inclusive environment that will foster innovation and growth. This will ultimately lead to the sustainable success of biotech ventures and the realization of their potential to improve the lives of people around the world.
- What are the key challenges for Africa’s biotechnology growth and commercialization?
Deficiencies in research facilities, equipment, and skilled personnel still pose significant obstacles to research and development activities. African biotech start-ups and entrepreneurs often struggle to secure funding, making it difficult to translate promising innovations into commercially viable products. Misconceptions and lack of knowledge about biotechnology often leads to public resistance, hindering adoption and market penetration.
- Where does the opportunity for biotech innovations lie on the continent?
Africa is poised for significant growth and leadership in the global biotechnology field. Rapid population growth and rich biodiversity fuel demand for bio-based products, offering vast market opportunities. Additionally, African research institutions are producing high-quality research, and governments are implementing policies to support the sector. Decentralised manufacturing and local production hold immense promise for the continent. A good number of global and regional initiatives are actively democratising access to knowledge and resources, building capacity for local manufacturing, and catalyzing the development of emerging bio-economies. This approach empowers local communities, fosters economic growth, and promotes sustainability.
- How should Africa nurture biotech incubations and support young innovators?
African governments and the private sector should inject more support in establishing a more facilitative environment for bio-innovations. This includes putting more investment and establishing a robust pipeline for effective transitioning of promising innovations into commercially viable products. It’s crucial to recognize that securing a product marks only the beginning of a new, distinct journey towards widespread adoption and effective use.
- Finally, share your experience and reflections from ABBC 2023 symposium
It was a true honor to participate in the ABBC 2023 symposium held in Nairobi, Kenya, last August. The spirit of the symposium exemplified Africa’s shared commitment to amplifying public understanding of new breeding tools. It was indeed a privilege to be surrounded by a diverse and accomplished group of distinguished science experts, policy makers, biosafety regulators, industry players, communicators, and other stakeholders. It was fascinating to see ABBC providing a platform for young biotech innovators to showcase their innovations and get opportunities for support. Beyond the esteemed speakers and the engaging sessions, the true magic of ABBC 2023 was the human connection. The presence of renowned experts alongside a broad range of delegates from various backgrounds created an unparalleled platform for networking and collaboration. Fuelled by the collective spirit and collaborative energy of ABBC 2023, I am confident that effective communication will keep pace with innovation, leading to a more sustainable and food-secure future for Africa and beyond. I am confident that recommendations from the symposium will have an immense positive impact on the future of modern biotechnology.
Stephane Fadanka is the Executive Director, Mboalab Biotech, Cameroon and Open Science Ambassador & Mentor, Open Life Science (OLS)