University and CSIR establish Cannabis research hub 

by Phaphama Tshisikhawe

13 July 2022

The Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a Cannabis research hub to support the medical cannabis industry in the country through research and product development. 

Skhumbuzo Nkuna, a final year National Diploma (Analytical Chemistry) student trained by a US based Company - Buffalo Extraction Systems to operate the instrument at the hub.

Speaking on the MOU, Dr, Vathiswa Papu-Zamxaka, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) for Research, Innovation and Engagement, said the University is excited about the partnership with the CSIR. “This is undoubtedly a great move for our University. Since 2017, South Africa’s budding Cannabis industry has seen positive legal developments conducive to unlocking its potential. Together with Government’s Operation Vulindlela these have created opportunities for research, product development for cannabis for medical and wellness products, as well as industrial hemp,” said Dr Papu-Zamxaka. 

Prof David Katerere, Prof in Pharmaceutical Science and TUT’s Research Platform Chair in Pharmaceutical and Biotech Advancement in Africa (PBA2), who spearheads the hub, said this collaboration enables them to leverage their expertise to support businesses and entrepreneurs in the region to produce good quality, safe products for local use and possible export to other countries and markets. 

“In addition, this collaborative centre will enable us to instil in and develop skills the skills of young researchers and entrepreneurs,” said Prof Katerere.

South Africa currently focuses primarily on cultivation and to some extent, extraction, explained Prof Katerere. However, the barriers to entry in the case of an entire value chain, are generally high – cultivation licences and conditions are beyond the reach of most citizens. The expertise and capital investment required to set up extraction and manufacturing, are also scarce.

“This is unlike the situation in industrialised countries like the US and Canada. In fact, entry into the cannabis and hemp industry is akin to entering the pharmaceutical industry space with little financial backing, business training and technical know-how,” Prof Katerere remarked.

The University has already secured equipment to support the research activities at the hub, such as the Supercritical Fluid extractor. This versatile instrument is used for extraction of herbs and cannabis as well as the production of oils, fragrances and spices. 

*It is the only machine of its size and kind at any public research institution/university in South Africa.

The TUT/CSIR Cannabis research hub will provide services and conduct research in the entire natural products sector.

Taking cognisance of the fact that the financial resources and skills required for extraction and manufacturing (pre- and post-processing) of cannabis-based medicines (CBMs), the TUT/CSIR’s Cannabis research hub aims to

  • Create an extraction and product development hub for use by entrepreneurs to de-risk early phase research, development and commercialisation.
  • Create a research and training facility for technical and work integrated learning of current and future workers in the cannabis and natural products industry in South Africa and the sub-region. The focus will be on chemistry, engineering and pharmaceutical training via internships and workplace for students and entrepreneurs.
  • To create, retain and exploit Intellectual Property (IP) in the country to maximize the benefits of Cannabis and natural products from Southern Africa.
  • Product and process development in certain therapeutic areas.
  • To support the strategic building of a Cannabis and natural products industry in the region and maximize value.

The TUT/CSIR Cannabis Research Hub will work in alignment with the National Cannabis Master Plan, which provides a broad framework for the development and growth of this industry. 

Hemp and Cannabis are included in the scope of the Master Plan, covering medicinal industrial and recreational use, cosmetics, food and beverages. In addition, regional and international collaborations to advance the cannabis industry and build capacity in the Southern African region will be central to the activities of the Cannabis Research Hub. 

Dr Vathiswa Papu-Zamxaka, DVC: Research, Innovation and Engagement with Prof David Katerere, the project leader and Dr Blessed Okole, the CSIR Director at the hub, assessing the new cannabis research equipment. 

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Phaphama Tshisikhawe, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
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