Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia to establish mRNA vaccine production

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Richard Drury
© GettyImages/Richard Drury

Related tags Vaccine South africa WHO Afrigen Biologics mRNA

Last week saw the WHO announce the first six countries that will receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines on the African continent, as part of the global mRNA technology transfer hub project.

Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia all applied and have been selected. Training of the first recipients gets underway next month.

The global mRNA technology transfer hub, primarily set up to address the COVID-19 emergency, was established in 2021 to support manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to produce their own vaccines, ensuring that they have all the necessary operating procedures and know-how to manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards.

The COVID-19 pandemic heightened global awareness of the technological gap between countries with different levels of industrial capacity, with increasing insistence from many quarters on the need for vaccine production technology transfer to vulnerable countries to bridge the gap.

Commenting on the mRNA technology transfer hub, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, the World Health Organization (WHO), said the pandemic demonstrated, like never before, that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting, and dangerous. "In the mid- to long-term, the best way to address health emergencies and reach universal health coverage is to significantly increase the capacity of all regions to manufacture the health products they need, with equitable access as their primary endpoint.”

Background

WHO issued a call for expressions of interest in April 2021 to companies wishing to host an mRNA technology transfer hub. In June 2021, the organization announced that it had selected a South African consortium to run the global hub, which will serve all LMICs.

The selected consortium comprises Afrigen Biologics, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and Biovac, a South African vaccine producer. Within this consortium, Afrigen is the entity mandated to establish mRNA vaccine production technology, SAMRC is providing the research and Biovac is the first manufacturing 'spoke'.

The hub has already established mRNA vaccine production at laboratory scale and is currently scaling up and validating production at commercial scale, reported the WHO.

Along with the that UN agency, the initiative is supported by the Medicines Patent Pool and the ACT-Accelerator/COVAX.

Capacity building 

The WHO mRNA technology transfer hub is part of a larger effort aimed at empowering LMICs to produce their own vaccines, medicines and diagnostics to address health emergencies and reach universal health coverage.

The initial effort is centered on mRNA technologies and biologicals, which are important for vaccine manufacturing and can also be used for other products, such as insulin to treat diabetes, cancer medicines and, potentially, vaccines for other priority diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

The ultimate goal is to extend capacity building for national and regional production to all health technologies.

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