BioNTech in bid to build manufacturing expertise in Africa
Project seeks to avoid repeat of COVID-19 vaccine inequality
Biovaccines plans to raise about $30 million for vaccine plant in Nigeria
Nigeria seeks to overcome dependence on imported vaccines
Backed by EU Commission
Aug 27 – with Nigeria in exclusion, COVID-19 vaccine maker BioNTech (22UAy.DE) said on Friday it was looking into building malaria and tuberculosis vaccine production sites in Rwanda and Senegal, narrowing its search for African locations.
The future malaria and tuberculosis vaccines would be based on the so-called messenger RNA technology, also used in its COVID-19 shot, the German drugmaker said.
BioNTech did not say when production was likely to start. In July it said it would seek to develop a vaccine for the mosquito-borne illness malaria, eyeing production in Africa, as it seeks to build on its success with Partner (PFE.N) in COVID-19 shots. read more
In a meeting with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Senegalese President Macky Sall and European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Berlin on Friday, BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin affirmed the German biotech firm’s intention to manufacture mRNA vaccines on the African continent, BioNTech said.
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The sites would be near prospective vaccine hubs planned by the World Health Organization (WHO), the company added.
The project to develop manufacturing expertise on the African continent marks a longer-term attempt to avoid a repeat of healthcare inequalities brought to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO has criticised a COVID-19 vaccine supply gap between industrialised nations and low-income countries, particularly in Africa.
Attempts to set up African production of COVID-19 vaccines have been limited so far.
Senegal’s Institut Pasteur of Dakar (IPD) this month reached a deal with U.S. company MedInstill for the bottling of COVID-19 shots. IPD, however, has yet to secure a partnership with a vaccine patent holder. read more
Pfizer and BioNTech last month struck a deal for South Africa’s Biovac Institute to process over 100 million doses a year of their vaccine for Africa. Biovac will carry out final production steps and bottling based on imported active substance in a process known as fill and finish.
Johnson & Johnson (J&J) (JNJ.N) has enlisted South African drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare (APNJ.J) also for the fill and finish process based on imported vaccine substance.
Senegal’s Institut Pasteur is the only facility in Africa currently producing a vaccine – a yellow fever shot – that is pre-qualified by the WHO, which requires manufacturers to meet strict international standards.
There are currently fewer than 10 African manufacturers that produce vaccines against any disease, in Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
The EU has said it wants to back the development of vaccine production hubs in at least three African countries, including Senegal and South Africa.
Nigeria Seeks $30M to Build First Vaccine Manufacturing Plant in 30 Years
Nigeria is in talks with the World Bank’s private lending arm and other lenders to raise about $30 million to help finance a vaccine plant, three decades after the nation’s only production facility was shut.
Biovaccines Nigeria Ltd, which is 49% owned by the Nigerian government with the balance held by May & Baker Nigeria Plc, is targeting to begin construction of the plant in the first quarter of next year, said Oyewale Tomori, chairman of Biovaccines.
Meanwhile the Pfizer and BioNTech will start to manufacture their Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa, they announced jointly on Wednesday, in a move that could significantly increase the availability of doses across the continent next year.
When fully operational, the companies said annual vaccine production would exceed 100 million doses, to be distributed exclusively within African countries.
In a statement, the companies said they signed a letter of intent with the Biovac Institute in Cape Town to transfer technology, install equipment, and develop manufacturing capability. The raw material for the vaccines will be transported from Europe and the first doses will be produced in 2022.
Vaccination rates across Africa remain extremely low, with just over 20 million full vaccine doses administered to a population of over 1.3 billion, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which says only 1.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Several countries including Mali, Niger and Ethiopia have hardly administered any doses per 100 people.
The announcement received a positive response. “It is great and welcome news that must be celebrated in the context of this pandemic as every action counts. I see this as a part of the collective action to address technology transfer and intellectual property,” John Nkengasong, the director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN.
There have been steady calls from countries including India and South Africa to waive the intellectual property rights on vaccine technology — part of ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
The vaccine rollout on the continent has been plagued by a shortage of doses, much of which are supplied by the global vaccine distribution initiative COVAX. Many of those doses were scheduled to come from the Serum Institute of India, but exports were suspended amid India’s disastrous second wave of Covid-19 and will not restart until the end of the year.
Countries including South Sudan and Kenya have either run out of jabs, or have come close to running out, as cases surge across the continent. Last week, WHO announced that countries in Africa had recorded a 43% week-on-week rise in Covid-19 deaths.
South Africa, where Pfizer/BioNTech will manufacture the much-needed doses, is currently in the throes of a deadly third wave triggered by the Delta variant. The country entered a strict lockdown at the end of June but has seen 63,000 Covid-19 deaths over the course of the pandemic, with current levels of more than 300 deaths per day.