Tuesday, June 18, 2024

mRNA Vaccine Production in Africa: BioNTech Secures $145M from CEPI for Expansion

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As global efforts to advance next-generation vaccines in Africa continue, spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, BioNTech is positioning its Kigali, Rwanda facility, inaugurated in December, to become the continent’s first commercial-scale mRNA production plant.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has committed up to $145 million to support BioNTech in establishing mRNA vaccine research and development, along with clinical and commercial manufacturing capabilities, at its Kigali facility. The initiative aims to create an “end-to-end vaccine ecosystem” in Africa, enhancing the continent’s preparedness for future epidemics and pandemics, according to a joint statement from BioNTech and CEPI.

BioNTech first announced the Kigali plant in 2021 and officially opened the facility late last year. The site utilizes BioNTech’s modular manufacturing units, known as BioNTainers, designed to produce various mRNA vaccines. With CEPI’s financial backing, BioNTech plans for its Kigali plant to become the first commercial mRNA facility in Africa, aligning with the African Union and Africa CDC’s objective to produce 60% of all required vaccines locally by 2040.

BioNTech to Produce Affordable mRNA Vaccines for Malaria, Mpox, and Tuberculosis in Africa

BioNTech intends to produce vaccines for diseases such as malaria, mpox, and tuberculosis at the plant, committing to affordable access for low- and middle-income countries, with priority given to African nations. Furthermore, BioNTech and CEPI aim to collaborate to swiftly address outbreaks in Africa caused by known viral threats or new pathogens with epidemic or pandemic potential.

A significant portion of the $145 million from CEPI is allocated to establish clinical-scale manufacturing for mRNA vaccines in Kigali. BioNTech is currently conducting clinical trials for tuberculosis, malaria, and mpox vaccines in Europe, the U.S., and South Africa, with plans to launch studies in Africa for malaria, HIV, and mpox candidates. Additionally, BioNTech will use CEPI’s investment to support third-party projects, including those by African researchers, academic groups, local businesses, public-private partnerships, and non-profit organizations.

mRNA Vaccine

CEPI CEO Urges Local Vaccine Production in Africa to Combat Inequities

Richard Hatchett, M.D., CEO of CEPI, emphasized the urgent need for local vaccine production in Africa, noting, “Africa still imports 99 percent of all vaccines it needs, leaving many waiting far too long for life-saving doses. This must change to avoid the inequities seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, while Western drugmakers quickly developed and distributed vaccines, global equitable access became a significant issue. In response, companies like BioNTech and Moderna initiated expansion plans in Africa, though not all have materialized. Earlier this year, Moderna reconsidered its $500 million manufacturing facility in Kenya, citing a lack of vaccine orders from Africa since 2022, which the Africa CDC criticized as perpetuating inequity.

Major health and philanthropic organizations have also stepped in. In October, the Gates Foundation allocated $40 million to companies including Belgium’s Quantoom, Senegal’s IPD, and South Africa’s Biovac to develop and produce mRNA vaccines for Africa and beyond. Additionally, the WHO opened an mRNA vaccine hub in Cape Town, South Africa, in April, with Afrigen Biologics leading the pilot project to develop a local version of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed AfriVac 2121.

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Resource: BioNTech, May 29, 2024

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