South African pharmaceutical spearheading development of vaccines

DavidBGray|David Gray/Getty Creative

In a bid to address vaccine inequality between rich and poor nations, a South African biotech company is spearheading a consortium backed by the World Health Organisation. Afrigen is taking on pharmaceutical giants in its quest to produce Africa’s first homegrown mRNA COVID-19 vaccine and share it with the global south. This is being seen as a ground-breaking drive to end Africa’s life-threatening lack of COVID-19 jabs.

The African continent has entered a new era of health sciences. Cape Town-based company is working on a messenger RNA jab using the same sequence as Moderna. The goal is to produce mRNA vaccines for low-income countries.
“This program will demonstrate that low and middle-income countries have the ability to produce cutting-edge technology vaccines. It will demonstrate that those countries can build vaccine innovation platforms because we’re building a platform here not only for COVID but for other diseases. We will demonstrate that changing the narrative requires people to accept support and belief that we can replicate this,” said Professor Petro Terblanche, Managing Director of Afrigen.
Scientists from six participating countries have already completed the first round of training at Afrigen’s facilities on a shoestring budget.
That is nearly one-fifth of the cost of some of the large vaccine facility development. This component of Afrigen, which is the facility, all the regulations, all the standard operating procedures, the science, the people, and the equipment, the total budget is 44 million USD, which is incredibly modest.
“So the mRNA program which consists of the development of the technology building of the technology packages transfers that technology package to 15 other spokes, which is the network that’s being created here. And to start an R&D program to build the pipeline of new mRNA vaccines the five-year budget is a modest 117 million USD,” Professor Petro Terblanche Managing Director, Afrigen.
Africa is the least vaccinated continent in the world, according to Africa CDC, around 23 percent of people have been fully vaccinated. Developing vaccines on the continent may help.