Page 34 - UCT Research Report 2011

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Professor Ed Rybicki
: a UCT
inventor engaged in the full
spectrum of the innovation chain
Professor Rybicki’s impressive credentials
include his 25-year career in plant virology
and plant biotechnology and, since 1997,
in vaccinology. His research on transgenic
resistance to viruses in plants, begun by
him and Professor Jennifer Thomson in the
1980s, culminated in 2007 in his laboratory
engineering transgenic resistance to
maize streak disease into maize. This is a
development that is potentially of enormous
economic benefit to small-scale farmers
throughout Africa and the rest of the world.
However, Professor Rybicki’s greatest advances in the past
decade have been in the field of plant-made vaccines.
This aspect of his work involved mainly the investigation
of human papillomavirus vaccines made in insect cells
and in plants, but also similarly-made HIV vaccines. It has
also included work on the diversity of, and vaccines for,
the parrot-infecting beak-and-feather-disease virus. His
research group has been very successful in the study of the
diversity of maize streak virus and its relatives.
This recent work has firmly established his laboratory as
a world-rated centre for biopharming, or the use of plants
for the production of high-value pharmaceuticals such as
vaccines, as well as the leading centre in the world for the
study of the economically-important pathogen that is maize
streak virus. It has also paved the way for his group to have
the largest molecular biotechnology-related patent portfolio
in South Africa, and to have the second largest patent
portfolio at the University of Cape Town. This, as well as the
more than 60 peer-reviewed papers in international journals
during the rating period, undoubtedly tipped the balance to
allow him to achieve an A-rating.
“He has made a huge contribution to research in the
amazing notion of using plants as production systems for
vaccine antigens, and he has established one of the best
laboratories in the world for this purpose,” says Deputy
Vice-Chancellor Professor Danie Visser. “On top of this,
he is a shining example of someone engaged in the full
spectrum of the innovation chain. With 44 patents, he is also
one of the three top UCT inventors.”
Celebrating our new
A- and P-rated researchers