AFRICA – BioNTech, a Covid-19 vaccine pioneer has said it will invest some of its profits from the Covid-19 vaccine it markets with Pfizer Inc. into developing shots for malaria and tuberculosis in Africa.

This is part of the German based biotechnology giant plan to establish a large production hub for innovative medicines on the continent.

The firm plans to build a factory in Africa and develop a manufacturing network with local partners to transfer its technology based on messenger RNA, a genetic molecule, to a continent that has suffered from a lack of access to vaccines and other lifesaving treatment, BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said.

The company’s new venture aims to produce a highly effective mRNA vaccine with durable protective immunity to prevent and eventually eradicate malaria, he said.

BioNTech, who developed the first coronavirus jab with US company Pfizer, is aiming to begin clinical trials for a safe and highly effective malaria vaccine by the end of next year.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria globally in 2019, with about 409,000 deaths that year.

The WHO estimates that children under five accounted for 67% of deaths in 2019 and 94% of cases and deaths were in Africa.

There is currently only one malaria vaccine – Mosquirix – which took GlaxoSmithKline several years to develop but is only 39% effective.

The genome of Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria, is more complex than viruses,” cautioned Prakash Srinivasan, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers at Oxford’s Jenner Institute are also developing a potential new malaria vaccine that has shown promise in a year-long trial.

BioNTech also plans to run tests on a vaccine for tuberculosis in 2020, as well as nine jabs against nine different infectious diseases.

The move marks a further expansion into the infectious-diseases market for the company, which was founded to develop next-generation cancer treatments.

BioNTech has created a dedicated infectious-diseases department and plans to announce further vaccine projects for other conditions this year.

This announcement follows months of debate about how to tackle Africa’s shortage of Covid-19 vaccines, which emerged after rich nations bought most of the available doses and many governments, including the U.S. and the world’s biggest vaccine maker, India, restricted exports.

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