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WHO Supports South African Consortium To Establish First COVID mRNA vaccine Technology Transfer Hub

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its COVAX partners are working with Biovac, Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a network of universities, and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop the first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in South Africa.

The plan comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global call for Expressions of Interest (EOI) on April 16, 2021, for the construction of COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer centers in order to scale up COVID vaccine manufacturing and availability.

The partners will negotiate details with the South African government, as well as public and private partners inside the country .

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the full scope of the vaccine gap between developed and poor economies, and how that gap can gravely jeopardize global health security,” stated South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

This historic endeavor marks a significant step forward in the international drive to increase vaccine development and manufacturing capability, putting Africa on the road to self-determination.

South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to contribute to this endeavor by using the continent’s existing capacity and expertise.”

Also, the WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that, “This is great news, particularly for Africa, which has the least access to vaccines,” said “COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products.”

The announcement follows the recent visit to South Africa by the President of France, Mr Emmanuel Macron, who said his country was committed to supporting efforts in Africa to scale up local manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical solutions.

“Today is a great day for Africa. It is also a great day for all those who work towards a more equitable access to health products. I am proud for Biovac and our South African partners to have been selected by WHO, as France has been supporting them for years,” said President Macron. “This initiative is the first of a long list to come, that we will keep supporting, with our partners, united in the belief that acting for global public goods is the fight of the century and that it cannot wait.”

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.

The technology transfer hub will benefit from the Medicines Patent Pool’s (MPP’s) vast experience of intellectual property (IP) management and issuing of IP licenses. MPP is also assisting WHO to negotiate with technical partners and supporting in the governance of the hubs.

Biovac is a bio-pharmaceutical company that is the result of a partnership formed with the South African government in 2003 to establish local vaccine manufacturing capability for the provision of vaccines for national health management and security.

Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is a biotechnology company focuses on product development, bulk adjuvant manufacturing and supply and distribution of key biologicals to address unmet healthcare needs.

The organizations complement one another, and can each take on different roles within the proposed collaboration: Biovac will act as developer, Afrigen as manufacturer and a consortium of universities as  academic supporters providing mRNA know-how, and Africa CDC for technical and regional support.

The South African consortium benefits from having existing operating facilities that have spare capacity and because it has experience in technology transfers. It is also a global hub that can start training technology recipients immediately.

Recall that , WHO’s April call for expressions of interest has so far generated 28 offers to either provide technology for mRNA vaccines or to host a technology hub or both. There have been 25 expressions of interest from low- and middle-income country respondents who could receive the technology to produce mRNA vaccines.

Over the coming weeks, WHO will continue the rolling evaluation of other proposals and identify additional hubs, as needed, to contribute to health security and equity in all regions.

Through the COVAX partnership, WHO will continue its assessment of potential mRNA technology donors and will launch subsequent calls for other technologies, such as viral vectors and proteins, in coming months.

WHO is also hosting the Local production forum this week, to identify strategies to expand pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity in low- and middle-income countries for COVID-19 and other priority diseases.

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