South African pharmaceuticals spearhead vaccine development

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In a bid to tackle the inequality in vaccines between rich and poor countries, a South African biotech company is leading a consortium backed by the World Health Organization. Afrigen is taking on pharmaceutical giants in its quest to produce Africa’s first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine and share it with the South. This is seen as a groundbreaking initiative to end Africa’s life-threatening lack of COVID-19 bites.

The African continent has entered a new era of health sciences. A 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 capacity to produce state-of-the-art vaccines. It will demonstrate that these countries can build vaccine innovation platforms because we are 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 the belief that we can replicate that,” said Professor Petro Terblanche, CEO of Afrigen.

Scientists from six participating countries have already completed the first round of training at Afrigen facilities on a shoestring budget.

This accounts for almost a fifth of the cost of some of the large vaccination facility developments. This component of Afrigen, which is the facility, all the regulations, all the standard operating procedures, the science, the staff, and the equipment, the total budget is $44 million, which is incredibly modest.

“So the mRNA program which is to develop the technological construction of the technological packages transfers this technological package to 15 other spokes, which is the network which is 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,” said Professor Petro Terblanche, CEO of Afrigen.

Africa is the least vaccinated continent in the world, according to Africa CDC, about 23% of people have been fully vaccinated. Developing vaccines on the continent can help.