BioNTech breaks ground on first mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in Africa
Covid vaccine access to lower- and middle-income nations has been a concern during the length of the pandemic, but BioNTech is now pushing forward with plans to increase vaccine access for Africa.
Construction work has kicked off for an mRNA manufacturing facility in Kigali, Rwanda. According to BioNTech, the facility, dubbed the African modular mRNA manufacturing facility, has a target for the first set of manufacturing tools to be delivered to the site by the end of this year.
Financial details on the project were not immediately available and Endpoints News has reached out for comment.
The company is expected to establish additional factories in Senegal and South Africa in close coordination with its partners in the respective countries. However, the initial site in Rwanda will become a node in a decentralized African end-to-end manufacturing network. All vaccines that will be manufactured in these nations will be dedicated to people residing in member states of the African Union.
According to BioNTech, the facility will be around 30,000 square meters and will be initially equipped with two BioNTainers, or modular shipping containers that are equipped for mRNA production. For the Kigali facility, one container will be used to produce mRNA, with another to produce the formulated bulk drug product. The facility will also be equipped to manufacture a range of mRNA-based vaccines targeted to the needs of African Union member states, which could include the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and BioNTech’s investigational malaria and tuberculosis vaccines if the vaccines are approved or authorized by regulatory authorities.
The company’s malaria vaccine candidates will enter human trials later in 2022, BioNTech said.
The estimated initial annual capacity of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine will be about 50 million doses, the German biotech said. Manufacturing in Rwanda is expected to commence 12 to 18 months after their installation. The facility is also expected to employ about 100 staff by 2024.
“We have reached the next milestone with the construction start of the first African mRNA manufacturing facility based on our BioNTainers – just four months after we introduced the BioNTainer concept in February. This factory will be the first in an African network to provide sustainable production capacity for mRNA pharmaceuticals,” said BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin, in a statement.
Discussions on having vaccine manufacturing capabilities have been in the works since 2021, as pressure was mounting on Moderna, BioNTech and its partner Pfizer to make their Covid-19 vaccine more accessible to the vast swaths of the globe still in need of doses.
However, BioNTech is not the only company looking to make a push in the African continent. In 2021, Moderna signed on to invest $500 million in an mRNA manufacturing site that could make up to 500 million doses a year. Also, the Moroccan government dropped $500 million into a new Recipharm fill-finish plant, and Grifols is building an IV bag plant in Nigeria, but those projects aren’t set to be up and running until 2023 and 2024, respectively.