ACGT founder presented with lifetime biotech contribution award

Co-founder, former Director of the ACGT and currently part time consultant to the organisation, Dr Jane Morris, was honoured with the Lifetime Contribution Award at the 2012 Biotechnology Fundi Awards on 16 February.

Held at The Innovation Hub in Pretoria, the Awards aim to incentivise, support, promote and develop individuals and companies who make a significant impact on the biotech sector in Gauteng. The Lifetime Contribution Award recognises a biotech sector role model who has made a significant and impactful contribution in the development and promotion of biotechnology that spans a lengthy period of time.

Over the last two decades of her career, Dr Morris has been involved in numerous aspects of the biotechnology sector. After spending a number of years managing biotechnology research in an industrial environment at AECI Ltd Research and Development, she moved on to the public sector at the CSIR where she took on a strategic technology management role. In addition, she has played an active role in biotechnology and bio-safety issues and participated in various national and international programmes concerned with GMO (genetically modified organism) safety. Since establishing the ACGT in 2001, Dr Morris has also been part of a number of South African government delegations promoting international collaborations in biotechnology and held advisory and other roles on various science and technology forums.

When asked what her personal career philosophy has been, she says, “In everything I do I just want to make more of an impact than simply sitting on the lab bench. I always wanted to see and try to influence the bigger picture; to not just be part of the status quo, but to move it forward”. She adds that she was first attracted to the concept of advancing the science and application of biotechnology on a larger scale when, after joining AECI, she was introduced to its industrial applications. “I saw the potential for the commercialisation of biotechnology in a range of different fields. That was when a whole lot of things began to open up”, she explains.

Part of her role at the time was to look at the feasibility of the different industrial projects that were being developed. “These ranged from GM plants to feed additives for farm animals. In order to look at the potential for those, you really had to start thinking a lot more widely”, she says. It was this experience that provided her springboard into the numerous areas in which she is now a recognised figure within the sector – including policy development, collaborative networking and review/evaluation.

On receiving of the Lifetime Contribution Award, Dr Morris gave a short speech of thanks, wherein she touched on what she views as some of the long-standing challenges in South Africa’s biotech sector. “A big talking point in the National R&D strategy is the innovation chasm, and often it seems that as soon as a new intervention is introduced, a new gap opens up. We really have to put a lot more work into getting the full value chain right – from research to getting products onto the market”, she says.

According to Dr Morris, one of the keys to achieving this is for all role players to not only work hard, but to work together. She believes she can make a lasting contribution to this through the legacy that she wants to leave behind with her work at the ACGT. “Having started the ACGT, basically from scratch, and then to see it attracting more and more institutions that want to work together – it gives me the feeling that I could walk away knowing that this is something that will survive”.