Wednesday, 21 July 2021 18:27

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Cape Town-based specialist biotech company, Biovac, has reached a deal to manufacture the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for distribution within the African Union (AU).

According to a statement released on Wednesday, this makes Biovac the first company in Africa to produce a mRNA-based vaccine.

Biovac is set to immediately commence technical transfer activities, which include on-site development and equipment installation activities.

In addition, the company, which is partly owned by the South African government, will obtain drug substances from facilities in Europe, and manufacturing of finished doses will begin in 2022.

At full operational capacity, the annual COVID-19 vaccine production will exceed 100 million finished doses annually.

All doses would exclusively be distributed within the AU's 55 member States and Biovac expects the facility will be brought into the Pfizer-BioNTech supply chain by the end of 2021. 

"We are thrilled to collaborate with Pfizer and BioNTech to produce and distribute the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine within Africa. This is a testament to the long-standing relationship we have had with Pfizer through the Prevenar 13 vaccine," said the Chief Executive Officer of Biovac, Dr Morena Makhoana.

Makhoana said it was a critical step forward in strengthening sustainable access to a vaccine in the fight against the worldwide pandemic.

"We believe this collaboration will create an opportunity to more broadly distribute vaccine doses to people in harder-to-reach communities, especially those on the African continent."

The Pfizer Chairman and CEO, Albert Bourla, said the goal has been to provide fair and equitable access to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to everyone, everywhere.

"Our latest collaboration with Biovac is a shining example of the tireless work being done, in this instance, to benefit Africa. We will continue to explore and pursue opportunities to bring new partners into our supply chain network, including in Latin America, to further accelerate the access of COVID-19 vaccines," he said.

CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech, Dr Ugur Sahin, said: "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."

Sahin said BioNTech believes that 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."

According to the statement, this latest technology transfer agreement strengthens the already existing relationship and enables Biovac to widen its existing footprint in Africa, which aligns with the long-standing vision of being a local manufacturer with regional presence and relevance. 

Meanwhile President Cyril Ramaphosa, has welcomed the announcement that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be produced in Cape Town by the Biovac Institute.

In a statement on Wednesday, the President welcomed the announcement of a collaboration between South Africa’s Biovac Institute and the global pharmaceutical producer Pfizer as a 'breakthrough in the protection of African nations against COVID-19".

"Today’s agreement will contribute significantly to health security and sustainability on our continent, which currently has the least access to vaccination in the world," Ramaphosa said.

Biovac is a vaccine producer and public-private partnership between the South African government and the private pharmaceutical sector.