The World Health Organization (WHO) and Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) have formed a consortium with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Afrigen Biologics (PTY) Limited, the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa (Biovac) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) aimed at addressing the global COVID-19 vaccines manufacturing capacity imbalance.
As a first step, a letter of intent has been signed to bring the partners together to establish the South African mRNA technology transfer hub that will allow for greater and more diversified vaccines manufacturing capability, strengthen African regional health security and respond more equitably to the current COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics.
The letter of intent, which is in sequel to WHO’s announcement in June of the first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in South Africa, sets out the terms of the collaboration and responsibilities between our organisations.
The WHO in a July 30 statement stated that, through a shared responsibility approach, the organisations will ensure the most suitable platform technologies are selected for the development of COVID-19 vaccines, that technology transfer is in place and that funding is secured for the hub, clinical studies and manufacturing support. It will also ensure that, crucially, this platform for innovation in vaccines is sustainable, inclusive, and will lead to vaccine security for Africa in the future.
According to WHO’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, “Building vaccine manufacturing capacity in South Africa is the first step in a broader effort to boost local production to address health emergencies and strengthen regional health security,” adding that inequitable manufacturing and distribution of vaccines has been largely responsible for the wave of death, which is now sweeping across many low- and middle-income countries that have been starved of vaccine supply,
The new collaboration brings together key actors from COVAX partners, industry, government, academia, funding agencies, WHO AFRO, which was represented by WHO’s Regional Director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti and the Africa CDC to collectively provide an enabling environment for the development of the first regional mRNA vaccine manufacturing production facility in Africa.
MPP’s Executive Director, Charles Gore, who is upbeat about the partnership said they look forward to offering their intellectual property expertise and experience, and to working closely with WHO and partners.
“Within the consortium, MPP will provide appropriate intellectual property analysis, define and negotiate terms and conditions of the agreements, provide alliance management and make use of our established robust selection process to allow further technology recipients to benefit,” Gore said.
On their part, Afrigen, a biotechnology company incorporated in South Africa, which established the first adjuvant formulation laboratory in Africa and has a pipeline of vaccines in development hopes to make the best of the strong research and development partnerships it has built with leading Universities in South Africa and across Africa.
“We have recently completed a facility suitable for the establishment of a fully integrated mRNA pilot scale production, formulation and fill finish platform,” Prof Petro Terblanche, Managing Director of Afrigen, said.
Morena Makhoana, Chief Executive Officer of Biovac, a South African specialist vaccines company that was established to revive local human vaccine production in Southern Africa said, “It is a long-held desire of Biovac to ensure that the full value chain of vaccines is developed in our continent and our aim is to assemble state of the art manufacturing capacity and help ensure the transfer of mRNA technology and know-how as quickly as possible.”
South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has decades of experience in managing large research consortia and local and international funding programs, in both the research and innovation domains which it hopes to leverage on.
Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), a specialized technical institution of the African Union that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes is looking at how they could make the best of what they have to facilitate timely access to vaccine in Africa.
Director of the Africa CDC, John Nkengasong, said, “As well as public health social measures, it is critical the world shares vaccine technologies now with African countries while also building up the manufacturing capacity across the region to help battle back against COVID-19 and also to leave a legacy for future pandemics.”