Biotech companies team up to develop African Covid vaccine

South African biotech company Afrigen Biologics will work with a Belgian partner to develop the first African-owned Covid-19 shot as part of a broader effort to reduce the continent’s reliance on other regions for vaccines.

Afrigen and the Univercells Group aim to build on expertise developed through the World Health Organization’s messenger RNA vaccine hub, the companies said in a statement Tuesday. Afrigen, based in Cape Town, said it’s working to facilitate the production of mRNA vaccines at more than 15 manufacturing sites in low- and middle-income nations across the world.

Africa, which imports about 99% of all the shots it needs, was left far behind wealthier nations in securing shots during the pandemic with manufacturing concentrated in just a handful of countries. The partners said they’ll seek to develop vaccines that are cheaper to produce and easier to store and distribute in rural and remote locations where few people have been vaccinated.

“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’s managing director. “Without the capacity to make their own vaccines, too many countries haven’t been able to access them.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in April that a potential Covid vaccine for lower-income nations could be ready for approval at least a year earlier if Moderna Inc. agreed to work with the hub. The US company instead announced an agreement to open a vaccine plant in Kenya that will make as many as 500 million doses annually.

After struggling to gain access to doses last year, the effort to protect populations in lower-income nations has run into problems in recent months turning supplies into vaccinations.

© 2022 Bloomberg