President Cyril Ramaphosa has hailed a new COVID-19 and cancer vaccine initiative launched by world-renowned healthcare extraordinaire Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong as a game changer for South Africa's healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry.
The initiative was launched by Dr Soon-Shiong's digital healthcare company NantWorks and is aimed at building pharmaceutical and vaccine capacity not only in South Africa but for the entire African continent.
This will kickstart the transfer technology used in the manufacturing of COVID-19 and cancer vaccines and next-generation cell-based immunotherapies.
"The investment by NantWorks is most timely. For our fight against COVID-19, for infectious disease management, for cancer research and treatment, and for future pandemic preparedness," President Ramaphosa said.
The initiative is a collaboration between NantWorks' African division NantAfrica, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
Dr Soon-Shiong - who was born in South Africa but left the country during Apartheid - said the initiative is the realisation of a lifelong ambition.
"It has been a dream of mine, since I left the country as a young physician, to bring state-of-the-art, 21st century medical care to South Africa and to enable the country to serve as a scientific hub for the continent.
"There is such an unmet need to treat life-threatening infectious diseases such as AIDS, TB and now COVID-19. Of equal concern is the poor survival rate of patients suffering from cancer in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa.
"The astounding advances in science have enabled new paradigms of care involving activating the immune system and changing outcomes for these diseases," Dr Soon-Shiong said.
The multi-layered collaboration will give rise to:
The implementation of state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing capacity to expedite transfer of COVID-19 and cancer vaccine biologics between CSIR and NantAfrica.
The launch of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) with the help of the universities of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu Natal which will enhance rapid genomic surveillance of and response to viral mutations occurring in Africa.
The launch of clinical centres of excellence for the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, HIV/AIDS and TB, with the help of Wits University and the universities of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu Natal.
President Ramaphosa highlighted that the initiative will boost the country's healthcare sector as the country battles the highest COVID-19 caseload in Africa, the largest number of people living with HIV and AIDS, and a "massive" Tuberculosis problem.
"We do have current treatment programmes for all of these, but COVID-19 has brought new challenges, not least of all resource constraints. The setting up clinical centres of excellence will contribute to quality improvement in managing these other diseases.
"I have no doubt that this collaboration will place South Africa, and Africa as a whole at the cutting edge of healthcare, science, technology and innovation," President Ramaphosa said.
The collaboration is the third investment into the country's pharmaceutical sector following the R10 billion investment into Aspen Pharmacare for the production of Africa's COVID-19 vaccines and the World Health Organisation's establishment of the mRNA manufacturing hub in the country.