What you need to know:
- What science has done is to go into the lab and genetically engineer these mice.
The Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Monica Musenero, said the mice meant to facilitate the development of a locally made Covid-19 vaccine cost the government Shs8 million each because they on high demand.
Dr Musenero made the remarks while addressing the select committee investigating allegations raised by Ntungamo Municipality MP Yona Musinguzi indicating that the minister misused Shs31 billion meant to facilitate the development of a locally-made vaccine.
The rats, which are to be procured from the United States of America (USA) and reportedly could not be found anywhere in Africa, are genetically engineered.
She said the decision to purchase the mice from America was arrived at after the first order placed in China was turned down since the mice are on high demand.
Dr Musenero said the mice are special and very hard to find on the market because they are highly modified and engineered to facilitate the Covid vaccine development process.
“These are very high technology animals. Actually, we have even struggled to get them. It is in our proposal [that] with your support to put up a facility [to breed them] because our scientists are able to work and create these mice here,” Dr Musenero said.
She added: “Not only are they expensive but they are also not easy to get. We paid the first company [and] after six months and they returned our funds. We had to source again. They said we can’t give you because of the very high demand.”
Prof Enock Matovu, who is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the processes meant to procure and secure the special mice, also said the high cost is due to the patent rights that come with the purchase of the mice.
“That cost is that high because they give you those mice with a licence to propagate them. So, we can get them here [and] set up a colony where we continue breeding them in-house and maintain that gene so that whoever has anything to test even beyond vaccines, has a model where they can taste this,” Prof Matovu said.
Lawmakers were also informed that each of the mice to be procured would serve a purpose equivalent to what 200 ordinary rats would in the development of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We procured four and that is what we have on the order but the cost comes in with that licence so that we can propagate and produce thousands here and use them here as long as we are using them within the limits of this agreement,” Prof Matovu said.
Prof Matovu also indicated that the mice are not susceptible to the deadly coronavirus disease and will, therefore, be effective in the development process of a local Covid-19 vaccine.
“The mice naturally are not susceptible to Covid. So, what science has done is to go into the lab and genetically engineer these mice,” Prof Matovu said.
It is for this reason that government would ensure that the mice are kept in a very safe and well monitored place.
“The research animal facility in which we are planning to keep them is to ensure there is biosafety to ensure that they should not escape,” Prof Matovu said.