Biovac to manufacture Pfizer COVID-19 doses in Africa

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags The Biovac Institute Africa vaccine manufacturing COVID-19 vaccine

South African biopharmaceutical company The Biovac Institute will manufacture and distribute Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine in Africa, with the three companies signing a letter of intent this week.

Thanks to Biovac’s manufacturing facilities in Cape Town, the deal will add a third continent to the mRNA vaccine’s supply chain and manufacturing network (with production to date having taken place in North America and Europe).

Technical transfer, on-site development and equipment installation will begin at the site immediately. This will allow the facility to be incorporated into the vaccine supply chain by the end of 2021.  Biovac will obtain drug substance from facilities in Europe; and manufacturing of finished doses will commence in 2022. At full capacity, the facility will be able to produce in excess of 100 million doses annually.

The doses will be distributed within the 55 member states of the African Union.

Building vaccine manufacturing capabilities

The Biovac Institute is a public private partnership between the South African government and the Biovac Consortium: founded to address the lack of human vaccine manufacturing capacity on the continent. While Africa imports in excess of a billion doses of vaccines a year, the manufacturing capacity is less than 1% of that.

Biovac has already been collaborating with Pfizer since 2015 on the sterile formulation, fill, finish and distribution of the American pharmaceutical giant’s pneumococcal 13-valent conjugate vaccine, Prevnar 13.

While this week’s partnership regards the COVID-19 vaccine, the companies eye up the opportunity to create a long-term framework for production and distribution of other mRNA vaccines in the future.

“We aim to enable people on all continents to manufacture and distribute our vaccine while ensuring the quality of the manufacturing process and the doses,”​ said Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech. “We believe that our mRNA technology can be used to develop vaccine candidates addressing other diseases as well. This is why we will continue to evaluate sustainable approaches that will support the development and production of mRNA vaccines on the African continent.”

Tech transfer

Biovac is also part of a South African consortium with Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a network of universities, and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. This consortium is working with the WHO and its COVAX partners to establish a COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub.

Technology transfer hubs are training facilities where the technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development performed. Interested manufacturers from low- and middle-income countries can receive training and any necessary licenses to the technology. WHO and partners will bring in the production know-how, quality control and necessary licenses to a single entity to facilitate a broad and rapid technology transfer to multiple recipients.

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