To fill African manufacturing void, BioNTech will piggyback off plans for malaria mRNA vaccine with new manufacturing sites
The lack of drug manufacturing in Africa has led to a need for Covid-19 vaccines, and the lack of a malaria vaccine has led to the deaths of thousands of children each year. BioNTech will now to try and take down two birds with one stone.
BioNTech is exploring possibilities to set up mRNA manufacturing facilities throughout the continent, either by partnering with other companies or through its own volition, the company announced in a press release. These facilities would have mRNA manufacturing capabilities, and will share space with technology transfer hubs that are under development by the World Health Organization that line up with the strategy created by the Africa CDC.
BioNTech and its Covid-19 vaccine partner Pfizer hopped onboard with an African manufacturer last week, announcing they had partnered with the Biovac Institute to manufacture vaccines to distribute throughout Africa. Only 60 million doses have been doled out to the population of 1.3 billion on the continent.
The move is aimed at increasing the accessibility of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries through an end-to-end process that supports scaling.
“Our efforts will include cutting-edge research and innovation, significant investments in vaccine development, the establishment of manufacturing facilities, and the transfer of manufacturing expertise to production sites on the African continent and wherever else it is needed,” CEO Ugur Sahin said in a press release.
German biotech BioNTech burst onto the mainstream stage when its Covid-19 vaccine was granted an EUA. That was the first BioNTech candidate to advance into commercial stage. Now, it has announced an mRNA program for malaria that will lead to the company transferring the tech to other companies. The vaccine will aim to fill a huge void, with the GlaxoSmithKline shot Mosuirix — a drug that boasts efficacy of 30% — the only other option available.
More than 400,000 people die of malaria each year, mostly on the African continent. Children under the age of 5 accounted for 67%, about 274,000 of the world’s malaria deaths. In 2019, 94% of the malaria cases and deaths reported in the world came from Africa.
Through utilizing mRNA technology, BioNTech hopes to ensure the mRNA manufacturing sites will have a long lifetime. The company says it has the potential to create a new model for generating vaccines in bulk to developing countries.
The Pfizer-BioNTech collaboration with Biovac stirred up some controversy from critics who didn’t approve of the facility’s reliance on APIs coming from Europe. Biovac will only handle fill-finish and distribution duties. The move does not allow Biovac to gain access to the IP to make the vaccine, despite the best efforts by South African politicians and public health officials to put together production capacity.
“As we and many others have long said, sharing Covid-19 tech and manufacturing is only way to move toward equity. Huge untapped African capacity and expertise,” tweeted Matthew Kavanagh, a Georgetown public health professor.
African nations have struggled to inoculate their citizens throughout the pandemic largely due to vaccine sharing and donation initiatives such as COVAX failing to garner enough supplies. CEO of Aspen Pharmaceuticals Stephen Saad said in an interview with CNN that more than 90% of the continent’s vaccines are imported, and most of those came from India. When India was hit with its deadly second wave, Africa’s vaccine supply dwindled.