Flying the SANBio flag high at SPARK Global 2018

SPARK Global (Image credit: SPARK Global)

Last year, SANBio afforded two of its regional youth ambassadors an opportunity to attend the SPARK Global - Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training Course in Berlin, Germany.

The trip was made possible by SANBio through the BioFISA II Mobility Grants which supported regional and international travel related to the research areas of health and nutrition; knowledge exchange and peer-to-peer visits for up to 2 weeks duration includes regional and international meetings as well as seminars or training courses with a specific focus in the areas of health and nutrition and on strengthening the visibility of SANBio network partners, excluding conferences.

SPARK is a global initiative stemming from Stanford University that aims to advance biomedical research discoveries into promising new treatments by fostering the next generation of biomedical entrepreneurs. SPARK emphasises new ways of thinking to bridge the gap between bench and bedside.

Furthermore, the programme also focuses on the advancement of new biomedical research discoveries into promising new treatments for patients by providing access to specialised knowledge and technical expertise regarding drug and diagnostic development, dedicated core laboratory facilities, and sources of funding to support transitional efforts.

The SPARK Global - Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training Course is developed and coordinated by Professor Michael Wallach and managed by Dr Mukti Bawa of University of Technology Sydney (UTS), the two week-long training course enabled students to think in creative innovative and entrepreneurial ways to solve medical health problems. 

The course covered topics such as the overview of clinical research, drug and medical device development, regulatory science, starting a business, how venture capital works, and business planning. To develop participants’ critical entrepreneurial thinking skills, they were divided into multidisciplinary teams and challenged to come up with new ideas that can solve medical health problems and pitch them in front of judges.

Eager to fly the SANBio flag high, SANBio Mauritius youth ambassador and University of Mauritius Natural Plant Phd student, Devina Lobine together with her team members from Standford University School of Medicine, University of Tsukuba, German Biomass Research Centre and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research pitched an idea for a new diagnostic tool for Trichomoniasis – a prevalent sexually transmitted infection which causes sever morbidity and high health care cost. The idea won them first prize and a gold medal Audience Choice prize. 

Thrilled about her winning, Lobine said attending the course has complimented her experience as a biotechnologist which has enabled her to understand all the essential activities involved in building an enterprise.

“The experience was absolutely amazing and I am grateful for the opportunity. As a SANBio youth ambassador, the ultimate dream is to have the organisers bring SPARK Global to Africa,” she added.

Another excited participant who attended the course was SANBio Zambia youth ambassador, FemBioBiz regional finalist and University of Zambia Pharmacy student, Godfridah Masaiti. She believes that if thoroughly explored in terms of potential, the field of biosciences can bring much needed development in Africa.

Masaiti’s team came up with an idea for a disease modifying small molecule that will slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease – a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement.

“African countries have been lagging behind for a while in skills like product development, commercialisation of R&D products for unmet medical needs, and also in the field of research. I personally believe that there is much to be done in the field in order to reach the projected destiny of economic independence with research and entrepreneurship forming one such aspect,” she said. 

“As an ambassador passionate and enthusiastic about SANBio and its vision, attending the course was a great opportunity. The course provided an understanding of how biotechnology projects and companies are created, managed and funded,” she added.

SPARK-Berlin is part of the global network of SPARK programs originating from Stanford University, and is supported by BIH and Stiftung Charité. Over 40 different institutions have established or are developing their own versions of the SPARK program. SPARK at Stanford is committed to supporting their work and accelerating the development of academic discoveries. Since the 2015 launch of SPARK Global, SPARK partners have launched 25 start-ups, received $30 million in funding, achieved 10 awards, and initiated 25 clinical trials. SANBio is collaborating with SPARK on initiatives related to equipment infrastructure and entrepreneurship.