Mzansi is set to establish its first technology transfer hub for producing mRNA Covid-19 vaccines which could start manufacturing doses in the next 9 to 12 months.
This was announced in joint release between presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Emmanuel Macron from France, and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
They said the landmark initiative heeded WHO’s global call for expression of interest to scale up production and access to Covid vaccines.
The announcement also follows Macron’s recent visit to South Africa. The French president said his country was committed to supporting efforts in Africa to scale up local manufacturing capacity of Covid-19 vaccines and other medical solutions.
“Today is a great day for Africa. It is also a great day for all those who work towards a more equitable access to health products,” he said. “I am proud for Biovac and our South African partners to have been selected by WHO, as France has been supporting them for years.
“This initiative is the first of a long list to come, that we will keep supporting, with our partners, united in the belief that acting for global public goods is the fight of the century and that it cannot wait.”
Technology transfer hubs
WHO is working with a South African consortium comprised of Biovac, Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, as well as a network of universities and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Technology transfer hubs are training facilities where the technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development performed.
Over the coming weeks, the partners will negotiate details with the South African government and public and private partners inside the country and from around the world.
Ramaphosa said, “South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to build on the capacity and expertise that already exists on the continent to contribute to this effort.
“This landmark initiative is a major advance in the international effort to build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity that will put Africa on a path to self-determination.”
Vaccine inequity exposed gaps
The South African head of state further added that, “The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies, and how that gap can severely undermine global health security.”
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, echoed the sentiments and said, “This is great news, particularly for Africa, which has the least access to vaccines.
Ghebreyesus added, “Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products.”
The technology transfer hub will benefit from the Medicines Patent Pool’s (MPP’s) vast experience of intellectual property (IP) management and issuing of IP licenses.
MPP is also assisting WHO to negotiate with technical partners and supporting in the governance of the hubs.
More hubs in the pipeline
WHO’s April call for expressions of interest has so far generated 28 offers to either provide technology for mRNA vaccines or to host a technology hub.
There have been 25 expressions of interest from low- and middle-income country respondents who could receive the technology to produce mRNA vaccines.
Over the coming weeks, WHO will continue the rolling evaluation of other proposals and identify additional hubs, as needed, to contribute to health security and equity in all regions.