South Africa’s local COVID-19 vaccine production receives major boost

Cropped hand wearing a nitrile glove holding a Covid-19 vaccine vial and a syringe

A South African-born American biotech medical entrepreneur has announced a R3 Billion investment towards vaccine development in South Africa.

SABC reports that Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder of Nantworks, a network of healthcare, biotech and artificial intelligence start-ups based in California in the US, announced that he made this investment during a webinar hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) this week.

“We as an organization, we’ll commit an initial R3 billion to catalyze this activity in SA and then work with Africa so that the capacity and most importantly second-generation vaccinology, second generation cell therapy, second generation delivery systems could be enabled.

I also need to say that beyond COVID-19, we need worry about diseases like schistosomiasis; tropical diseases have been neglected because they’re African.

Cancer like burkitt’s lymphoma, HIV and one of the most urgent things is this non-infectious epidemic called cancer, the survival rates in Africa is terrible so with that, I just want to announce is that our goal and our commitment is to come back to SA and transfer this kind of technology,” Soon-Shiong said.

Dr Soon-Shiong’s other company, ImmunityBio, is reportedly already conducting vaccine trials in South Africa in a partnership with local vaccine producer BioVac.

He says he has been in talks with the government, Professor Tulio de Oliveira of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform as well as Dr Glenda Gray of the SA Medical Research Council.

“What is really needed is second generation vaccines but there’s also need for broad platforms, whether it be the viral vector platform, RNA platform, cell therapy platform, antibody platform, sub-unit platforms, audients.

My commitment and goal are to bring these platforms into Africa. When we say Africa can, Africa will, already in SA we will have and do have companies like BioVac, companies like Aspen, while SA had not in its own right built a vaccine since 2001, that will change,” he added.

(With input from SABC)