RWANDA—German biotech company BioNTech has secured up to US$145 million in funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to help establish a production network in Africa for vaccines based on cutting-edge messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.

This announcement was made on May 29, 2024, in a joint statement by BioNTech and CEPI, highlighting the financial support as part of an expanded partnership aimed at building an mRNA vaccine factory in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.

This financing is expected to produce affordable vaccines to combat malaria, mpox, tuberculosis, and other health threats.

The partnership  emphasized their commitment to working together to respond rapidly to outbreaks on the African continent caused by known viral threats or an as-yet-unknown pathogen with epidemic or pandemic potential.

CEPI’s pledged funds come in addition to up to US$90 million that the coalition granted BioNTech in September to support the development of mpox vaccine candidates.

In his remarks,  CEPI’s Chief Executive Officer, Richard Hatchett, remarked that in a health emergency, up to half of the Kigali plant’s annual capacity of around 50 million vaccines could be dedicated to making vaccines to respond to the emergency.

This funding deal aims to accelerate the development of the factory and increase its capacity to produce materials for research and clinical trials for third parties, rather than for specific vaccine development.

BioNTech aims to start production at the modular mRNA vaccine factory in Rwanda by 2025.

This facility will be the first foreign-company mRNA vaccine manufacturing site on the African continent. BioNTech has fully funded the construction of this facility, committing a total of US$150 million.

The company’s ambitious plan is part of a broader strategy outlined in 2022 to enable African countries to produce its vaccines under BioNTech’s supervision.

This move is expected to significantly bolster the continent’s capacity to handle health emergencies independently.

BioNTech, known for developing the Western world’s most widely used COVID-19 vaccine in partnership with Pfizer, is making strides in expanding its global footprint.

This initiative in Rwanda is seen as a critical step in ensuring that Africa has the infrastructure and capability to produce advanced mRNA vaccines.

This is particularly important given the continent’s vulnerability to infectious diseases and the logistical challenges associated with vaccine distribution.

In contrast, rival biotech company Moderna paused its plans in April to build a vaccine manufacturing facility in Kenya due to a post-pandemic decline in demand for COVID-19 vaccines.

This highlights BioNTech’s unique approach and commitment to ensuring the sustainability and resilience of vaccine production in Africa.

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