South Africa: African-Based COVID-19 Vaccine On the Cards Through Technology Transfer Hub in Cape Town

The United States is sending 25 million Jannsen Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by Johnson&Johnson to Burkina Faso, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

In an effort to even the playing field in terms of vaccine delivery and production, a collaboration between South African-based consortium Afrigen Biologics and Belgium-based Univercells Group was signed on Tuesday. The partnership will pave the way for the development of the first African-owned Covid-19 vaccine.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that there is a pressing need to build African capabilities in vaccine development and manufacturing," said Petro Terblanche,Afrigen managing director, noting that African countries "need access to life-saving vaccines and medicines."

Afrigen is based in Cape Town.

TheAfricancontinent as well as poor countries have previously been depended on wealthy countries for critical medicines-- 99 percent of all vaccines are imported on the African continent.

Two challenges

The companies will collectively tackle two major challenges for both the African continent and the world's poorest countries - the absence of local cost-effective production, and the need for cold or super-cold chains.

In terms of cost, the World Health Organisation and its partners will provide training and financial support to create trained, skilled workers, and ensure quality control as well as product regulation and licensing.

Once this project is in place, "recipients will be able to contribute to the global effort to increase local vaccine production capacity and may sign agreement with producers or develop vaccines locally," according to the release.

Currently, a number of the existing mRNA vaccines must be contained in super-cold storage to retain their efficacy, which poses problems for some countries in trying to get the vaccines to the rural areas, where electricity is not guaranteed.

The group is developing an mRNA vaccine that can be stored in regular refrigerators, so easier to store and distribute to rural populations without the need for special equipment.

It will also be working with eTheRNA, a technology company that has expertise in dealing with vaccines and cold storage challenges.

Intellectual property

By developing this vaccine using intellectual property from the partners, and developing new intellectual property, this will give direct access on the African continent to the vaccine.

This collaboration "is intended to pave the way for the development of the first-ever African-owned Covid-19 vaccine, and in the long terms change the way we make mRNA vaccines worldwide," according to the statement released by the group.

Ultimately, this partnership could be extended to cover the development for vaccine manufacturing processes for other key diseases.

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