(Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 13, 2023) : Biotechnology experts and regulators who took part at a panel discussion today have stressed that the thriving biotech and Genome Editing (GEd) research activities in Ethiopia should be supported by policy.
The discussants were speaking at a panel discussion organized by AUDA-NEPAD in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and themed: “The role of policy, research centers and university for commercialization of GEd products” where they highlighted the existing policy challenges in Ethiopia in the application of the globally emerging Genome Editing technology which is regarded as a decisive tool in boosting agricultural productivity.
Sluggish Policy Adoption Process and Genome Editing
As members of the biotechnology research community complain about the sluggish policy adoption process especially with the draft national Genome Editing guideline which is currently filed at the Ethiopian Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Mr. Wondowoson Tadese, a legal expert with EPA expressed his optimism that the Authority may endorse the national draft guideline subsequent to holding discussions and deliberations with researchers and the technology developers.
Mr. Wondowoson said: “We have enabling policies and legal frameworks [In Ethiopia] to adopt R & D, but we are regulating technology which is dynamic by its nature and we need to keep up with the momentum. Whenever we come across with a new technology, we need to devise a policy ensuring safety for humans and the environment. So, personally I believe that currently we have enabling policies and legal frameworks to adopt, be it biotechnology or any emerging technology in Ethiopia.”
Director of Agri-biotechnology research at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) Dr. Dejene Girma on his part says that technology developers like him want to have a regulatory framework, which is an enabling factor to do their research, and development works.
According to Dr. Dejene, the progresses made so far by Ethiopia’s biotechnology regulatory bodies are quite commendable. However, with the current worldwide dynamism in the emerging technologies of genomic modification that are highly changing, regulators have to be more vigilant of the developments and provide the necessary policy frameworks and policies to enable technology developers bring in the much needed technology solutions for the straggling agriculture of the country.
What does it take to formulate Genome Editing policy?
Research Vice President of the Haremaya University Dr.Tesfaye Lema indicated that Ethiopia has already adopted a workable science and technology policy and when amended and revised the policy has to incorporate issues of biotechnology, commercialization, all the possible tools and procedures of genome editing efforts as well as the services with all the quality assurance and intellectual property aspects.
According to Dr.Tesfaye, biotechnology policy formulation process should also consider issues of Private-Public institutions partnership, intellectual property (benefit sharing), bringing researchers themselves to the forefront in the policy formulation process and the issue of start-up and research financing as well as capacity building towards the successful commercialization of GEd products.
He also raised issues of institutional supports in building physical infrastructures including biotechnology research labs and supplies of reagents and chemicals needed for research purposes. In addition , matters of research ethics are also essential, he added.
Prof.Tileye Feyissa, the Dean of College of Natural and Computational Sciences, Addis Ababa University, said that the Ethiopian research and development policy frameworks has witnessed radical changes over the last 20 years due to the concerted efforts made by researchers and all stakeholders, but when it comes to policy implementation it can be characterized as sluggish and very slow.
Prof.Tileye accentuated the need to build trust among researchers and regulators. “Regulators should not always be suspicious of the works of researchers”, he said and adding that technology developers feel that they are even more responsible than regulators in terms of the safety of the final products of their research.
“When Genetic Modification was developed in 1970s, it was not regulators and environmentalists who proposed the importance of regulation of genetic engineering; it was the scientists themselves who developed the technology. Therefore, when I developed a technology, I would be more responsible because I am accountable. Therefore, the role of the regulator should be facilitator instead of inhibitor,” Prof.Tileye said.
The Professor urged regulators to expedite policy adoption processes and especially the endorsement of the current draft genome editing guideline.
Genome Editing : Tomorrow’s Technology
Professor Tileye said that Ethiopia’s economy is mostly depend on the agricultural sector and proper attention should be attached to the sector in terms of policy support.
According to him, genome editing, as a modern-day agricultural research technological tool, it should be given the due policy attention, because he added that it is only through technology that Ethiopia can tackle the current skyrocketing cost of living and the high price of agricultural products that are exacerbating by the soaring population growth.
The session moderated by Prof. Frew Mekbib of the Haremaya University also looked into the policy formulation and implementation gaps, the role of research centers and university for the development and commercialization of GEd products with the future holding a lot of optimism and greater prospects as collaboration and partnership is to be strengthened among all stakeholders especially the smooth relations of GEd technology developers and the regulators.
The panel discussion was part of the workshop organized by AUDA-NEPAD in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from November 13-14, 2023, under the theme: “Strengthening Institutionalized Capacity on Genome Editing in Biotechnology Research and Development through Strategic Partnerships, Alliances and Linkages with Institutions of Higher Learning.”