SOUTH AFRICA – Biotechnology company Afrigen Biologics is set to develop and produce the first-ever African-owned COVID-19 vaccine based on messenger RNA in partnership with Belgian biotech company Univercells and eTheRNA, an RNA technology discovery and development company.

Under the deal, Afrigen will focus on the development of a novel mRNA vaccine at its sites in Cape Town, South Africa using intellectual property (IP) from the collaboration partners along with developing new IP with the aim of significantly advancing access to the anti-COVID vaccine.

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.

At present, African countries import 99% of all the vaccines they use. An African-owned COVID-19 vaccine is a critical step in closing the gap in vaccine accessibility and coverage

Afrigen Biologics is the World Health Organization (WHO) Global mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Center designed to facilitate the production of mRNA vaccines at over 15 designated production sites in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) around the world.

The mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa has partnered with Univercells and eTheRNA to expand local vaccine development and manufacturing capacity in an effort to meet vaccine demands of African countries towards self-reliance and health security.

The partnership follows the discovery of an mRNA production technology with a significantly higher efficiency than existing methods developed through know-how of the Univercells subsidiary, Quantoom Biosciences.

The mRNA production technology will allow the decentralized production of biomedicines and vaccines at low cost to challenge Africa’s dependence on imports of COVID-19 vaccine which left the continent vulnerable to repeated waves of the coronavirus.

The vaccine development initiative in Africa comes at a time when 60% of the world’s population has received two doses but the situation is still inequitable with only 17% vaccinated in Libya, 8% in Nigeria and less than 5% in Cameroon.

Afrigen Biologics 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 Antwerp-based biotech eTheRNA immunotherapies provided the technology to produce an mRNA vaccine that is thermostable at the temperatures used in ordinary refrigerators for easier storage and distribution in rural and remote areas in Africa and LMICs.

In addition, the Afrigen manufacturing facility is critical to Africa’s security and the production of mRNA vaccines will ensure the continent is able to tackle current and future health challenges since African countries currently import 99% of the vaccines they use.

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