South Africa has a population of 50,000,000. It is rich in natural resources and has one of the greatest biodiversities on the planet. Based on the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2012-2013 global competitiveness index, South Africa is ranked 52nd overall out of 144 countries. However, when one breaks this down into individual components, South Africa’s ranking drops to 132 when it comes to health and to 122 when it comes to the availability of scientists and engineers.
According to Statistics South Africa, life expectancy at birth in mid-2010 was estimated at 53,3 years for males and 55,2 years for females, well below the World Health Organization (WHO) global average reported in 2008 of 68 years.
From the above it can be seen that South Africa as a country faces significant challenges in the areas of health and scientific capacity.
As one of South Africa’s leading Higher Education Institutions, the University of Pretoria (UP) has a proud history of academic excellence both within South Africa and abroad, and the University has contributed significantly to the prominence of health-related research in South Africa. Increasingly, a strong culture of technology transfer is emerging, and this is seen as an important means of bringing publicly-funded research to the market.
Recognizing that health-related research has an important role to play in the improvement of the quality of life of all South Africans, the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine was created to perform cutting-edge research in the health sciences, the objectives of which are:
- to undertake research in the health sciences that will address significant issues related to human health in South Africa and beyond
- to promote the generation of intellectual property from human health-related research and the commercialization thereof.
From a strategic and governance perspective, the Institute functions within the academic and operational structures of the University of Pretoria and is managed from the Faculty of Health Sciences. All members of the Institute have their primary appointments in existing Departments of the Faculty of Health Sciences and other Faculties in the University.
The Institute is primarily a research facility in which the emphasis is on transdisciplinarity and cross-cutting technologies. This is true both within the Faculty of Health Sciences and the University as a whole. The Institute exists as a “core” facility with and “extended” virtual component. Given that the majority of researchers involved in the projects of the Institute are based on Prinshof Campus and at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, most of the work of the Institute is done on Prinshof Campus. The “core” facility is therefore located in the Pathology Building on Prinshof Campus. In the medium-to-long term, it is envisaged that a new building will be built on Prinshof Campus to house the Institute as well as a number of other entities which could include biotech companies whose products and services relate to human health.
Members of the Institute share a common vision of patient-centric research. This is accompanied by a shared set of values which include excellence, honesty, trust, equality and dignity. Since South Africa has developed a culture of “training for export”, one of the critical elements in the long term sustainability of the Institute is the creation of incentives to members in order to recruit and retain highly qualified staff. The presence of strong support from the University and the availability of large amounts of research material of high quality are two of the very positive attributes of the Institute.