SOUTH AFRICA – Afrigen Biologics Limited, the company hosting the World Health Organization’s technology transfer hub in South Africa, and the United States (US) have agreed on the development of messenger RNA vaccines against diseases such as COVID-19, tuberculosis, malaria, and Ebola.

The South African hub aims to expand know-how around the production of mRNA vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, messenger RNA is a novel and complex technique that teaches human cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response to a certain disease that enters the body.

Afrigen Biologics has entered into a strategic partnership with the National Institutes of Health, through the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that will see the South African hub produce own version of mRNA vaccines.

Afrigen is part of the mRNA technology transfer hub programme that was established by the COVAX Vaccine Manufacturing Taskforce with the World Health Organization and the Medicines patent Pool as the programme’s co-leader

According to Afrigen, the new partnership will enable the sharing of technical skills and materials to hasten vaccine production and help the hub establish processes to make investigational mRNA vaccine products at its production and manufacturing facilities for early-stage clinical trials.

The collaboration includes sharing knowledge and expertise to help enable production of large amounts of DNA, in the mRNA in vitro transcription process, lipid nanoparticle formulation and upon mutual agreement, research on new mRNA-based vaccines,” Afrigen said in a press statement.

NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center will also provide the starting material particularly the plasmid DNA for mRNA drug substance manufacturing which will help with clinical trials as well as technology transfer and training. Ultimate, the hub can establish the process in-house.

Earlier, Afrigen Biologics partnered with the Belgium-based Univercells Group and mRNA specialist eTheRNA to develop a new mRNA vaccine using intellectual-property (IP) from the companies in efforts to help the South African hub develop its own IP.

Afrigen will leverage eTheRNA’s technology that avoids the constraint of storage at very low temperatures to address the challenges that have hampered the deployment of Covid-19 vaccines in Africa such as the need for super cold chains to store vaccines.

The vaccine manufacturing facility seeks to address the challenges faced by the African continent in buying COVID-19 vaccines since the region was the only continent that did not have its own manufacturing capacity for COVID shots leaving it at the mercy of suppliers from overseas.

Other hub partners include South African Medical Research Council, the Medicines Patent Pool, the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, the COVAX initiative, the African Union, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation and the Biovac Institute.

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