Biology is an essential technology to solve global challenges. It provides better yielding crops, medicines, diagnostics and sustainable production of materials that power our world. However, there are huge barriers to emerging economies harnessing biotechnology to meet local challenges, including inadequate supply chains making reagents unaffordable and hampering scientific progress. This situation must change to fully realise biotechnology’s potential for public good.
Beneficial Bio is a network of social enterprises run by biologists which aims to make that change. In the first instance we are developing local reagent production capacity in Africa and Latin America, starting with our first manufacturing node in Cameroon. MboaLab Biotech is a Yaoundé-based social enterprise providing skilled jobs to local biotechnologists and hands-on internships to local graduate students. By combining local production and R&D with imports from trusted manufacturers, training and specialised local technical support, we can supply Cameroonian scientists with research tools in 3 days rather than 3+ weeks and at affordable prices. We plan to expand to more countries in the near future through a social franchise model.
Beneficial Bio’s short term impact is accelerating and scaling local research. Our long term impact is increasing the agency of more people to shape biotechnology, particularly solving local problems without reliance on foreign priorities and developing resilient and autonomous supply chains for research and diagnostics.
Summary of the technology
We have developed an open source manufacturing model where biological tools make more biological tools. A technology analogy would be the self-replicating RepRap 3D printer which can be used to print parts for the next generation of 3D printers – that includes design improvements that are fed back to the community of makers and users.
We have a DNA toolkit for producing proteins called enzymes using lab-safe bacteria and low-cost purification techniques, making them far more affordable than current commercial products. Those enzymes are essential tools for research and diagnostics and are in daily use in all biotechnology and molecular biology labs. They are also the tools you need to take new DNA that we might not have thought of or had available in the original toolkit and produce those proteins as well.
This could include DNA from local microbes for diagnostics, material production, manufacturing of medicines, chemicals used in cleaning or industries such as textiles. DNA that is shown to work in the system can then be shared with others to produce the proteins themselves, taken forward as a commercial product or in some cases both.
We are constantly exploring new ways to make the system adaptable to different contexts, supply chain availabilities and needs, with a particular focus on resource constrained labs that gives us very specific design goals. For example, we strive to make temperature-stable products that drastically reduce the cost of shipping as no cold chain is needed and are also robust to the electricity outages that affect many of our partner labs.
The manufacturing model includes a blueprint for design and implementation of a production lab, the DNA toolkit itself, a lot of know-how and the open source processes that enable information to be shared and updated across the community.
Dr Jenny Molloy Executive Director, Beneficial Bio
Shuttleworth Foundation Research Fellow in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge
Cesar Gomez Business Director, Beneficial Bio
Business manager, social entrepreneur and an engineer by training; holds an MSc in Systems engineering from UCL and an MBA from Judge Business School, University of Cambridge
Dr Chiara Gandini Science Director, Beneficial Bio
Molecular biologist with an industrial biotechnology background and a passion for synthetic biology and sustainability
Thomas Mboa Managing Director, Beneficial Bio, Cameroon
Social scientist with a background in Biochemistry. Thomas is responsible for aligning Beneficial Bio’s vision with the local context in Cameroon and to seek out new local partners.
Stephane Fadanka Researcher and Production Manager, Beneficial Bio, Cameroon
With a background in Molecular Biotechnology (MSc.) and Biological Analysis (BSc.), Stephane is Executive Director of MboaLab Biotech and the Production Manager for Beneficial Bio in Cameroon.
Nadine Mowoh Researcher and Quality Manager, Beneficial Bio, Cameroon
Nadine has a background in Microbiology and Medical Laboratory Technology (BSc) and carries out research at MboaLab Biotech on local manufacturing of enzymes using low cost local resources.