TANDOKAZI NQUMA-MOYO: Taking medical research to the market
Science has no impact if it does not protect its intellectual property (IP), and the influence of scientific endeavour is irrelevant if scientists do not have the necessary funding.
Tandokazi Nquma-Moyo (31), a business development manager at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), is passionate about both IP protection and finding ways to fund scientific development and learning.
“The hardest part of science is not developing an idea, it’s protecting IP and finding the funding to take the medicine or chemical to market. My job is to make sure that a scientist’s research idea ultimately ends up on pharmacies’ shelves,” she said.
Nquma-Moyo explained that medicines and scientific solutions are conceptualised and then developed in a laboratory. As the process rolls out, their intellectual property has to be protected and funding has to be secured to bring the idea to life.
“I want to be a business scientist and take these ideas to market, because we have beautiful science that ends up in a publication and on library shelves and not in the market.”
It is Nquma-Moyo’s job to make sure that research and development conducted at Necsa addresses challenges the country faces and finds solutions to these problems.
“For example, a researcher approaches me with a molecule that can treat a disease. Investigate the market and speak to potential investors,” she added.
In some cases, researchers need about R500 million, which goes towards protecting the research’s IP, conducting clinical trials and registering the product with health bodies.
“My job is to do commercial work, talk to pharmaceutical companies, investors, doctors and even patients, to educate them about the product so that they can ask their doctor for it. I also present the ‘business case’ for the product, showing how it will alleviate social issues,” she says.
Since joining Necsa, Nquma-Moyo has brought about R20 million in investments to research that is tackling the country’s challenges.
Nquma-Moyo said that there is a misconception about nuclear energy. It’s not all about providing electricity. “When most people think of nuclear energy, they think of electricity but it can also be used in the health space. Part of my job is to raise awareness of the different things that nuclear energy can do, besides providing electricity. Nuclear energy is medicine, and it can save lives,” said Nquma-Moyo.
Necsa has two companies – Nuclear Technology Products (NTP) Radioisotopes, a nuclear medicine company, and Phelindaba Chemicals, which sells chemicals like hydrogen fluoride which is used in oil refineries.
“NTP sells to over 50 companies around the world and we bounce between being the second and third largest producer of nuclear medicine. Even as a developing country, we export nuclear medicine to fi rst world countries,” she said.
One of Necsa’s major research studies is with the GluCAB tool, which aims to change the diagnosing and treating of breast cancer. It has the ability to locate cancerous tissues and kill them. “Early diagnosis saves lives and Necsa’s slogan is to enhance lives. This is a project that is very close to my heart,” said Nquma-Moyo.
Motivated to succeed Nquma-Moyo holds a degree in biochemistry and microbiology from the University of Forte Hare and completed her honours in microbiology, focusing on plant medicine, at the same university.
She was then awarded a scholarship from the Department of Science and Technology to pursue her master’s degree at the North West University, which focused on renewable energy solutions. She also holds a diploma in business management from Varsity College.
Nquma-Moyo joined Necsa as an IP analyst in 2014, before being promoted to business development manager. Her previous work experience includes business development and research specialist at the Coega Industrial Developmental Zone and regional business development and tech transfer officer at the Technology Innovation Agency.
“I grew up in one of the most rural areas in South Africa – Centani, in the Eastern Cape. It was very poverty stricken and I sometimes had to bath in cold water in winter before school,” she recalled.
Growing up in these conditions made Nquma-Moyo think about how she could help her community tackle social problems.
“The poverty in my area pushed me to pursue this area of study,” she said. Whilst in high school, Nqumo-Moyo realised that one of the reasons that people got sick in her community was related to the fumes in the environment and contaminated river water.
“I asked myself how I could work in the preventative space. I always wanted to find solutions to the problems that affect our social health and economic lives,” she explained.
She advised young people who would like to mirror her career to work hard and go beyond the call of duty to become a creative solution provider.
“Loving mathematics and science is very important. You must also be able to identify opportunities. In science and engineering, there are more opportunities and business development is one of them. A scientist can do this if they are passionate about the business of science,” said Nqumo-Moyo.
She is also a published scientist and her research manufactured a chemical product from agricultural produce which influenced the South African biofuels strategy and policy development.
This article first appeared in the April edition of Public Sector Manager, available here.