Senegal could start producing COVID-19 vaccines next year as part of a deal with Belgian biotech group Univercells to boost drug-manufacturing ambitions in Africa, a source involved in the process told Reuters. project funding.
As rich countries begin to reopen after securing vaccine supplies early, African countries are still struggling to get vaccinated. On a continent of 1.3 billion, only about 7 million have been fully immunized.
The collaboration highlights the opportunities created by a global push to funnel money and technology into production on a continent that makes only 1% of the vaccines it needs.
Univercells announced in April the signing of a letter of intent to collaborate with the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The source shared details of the proposal, which have not been made public.
Under the agreement, the Institut Pasteur would use vaccine production technology developed by Univercells to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to countries in West Africa.
The institute would first start packaging and distributing vaccines produced by Univercells in Belgium early next year, the source involved in securing funding for the collaboration told Reuters.
Univercells would transfer its entire production line to Senegal in the second half of 2022, the source said, adding that the company would train local staff so that they could eventually lead the operation.
Univercells director of investment Kate Antrobus, when asked about the project’s schedule, confirmed that it could send doses of the vaccine to Senegal early next year.
She declined to comment on the exact date of a complete vaccine production line in Senegal, but of the referenced deadlines, she said: “I don’t think they are unreasonable.”
The timing depends on obtaining regulatory approval from Univercells for a vaccine production site in Belgium. Antrobus said it was scheduled “any day now”.
Institut Pasteur director Amadou Sall declined to comment on the timeline or size of the project, but said the institution was working with donors to secure financial support.
“There is a lot of political will, I’m optimistic. But it’s not about momentum, it’s about creating a real opportunity,” he said.
It is not yet known which vaccine will be supplied to Senegal, but Antrobus said the site in Belgium would be able to manufacture a class of so-called COVID-19 viral vector vaccines such as those developed by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), AstraZeneca (AZN.L), Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Cansino.
“If COVID declines incredibly over the next year… that same ability could be used for other viruses,” Antrobus said.
Univercells also has its own COVID-19 vaccine candidate, in development with German Leukocare and Italian company ReiThera, which has completed phase II trials. It is looking for funding to carry out phase III, which the Italian government has said is ready to finance.
300 MILLION DOSES NEXT YEAR
The Institut Pasteur in Senegal is the only facility in Africa currently producing a vaccine – a yellow fever vaccine – that is prequalified by the World Health Organization, which requires manufacturers to meet strict international standards. .
Prequalification allows facilities to supply to major buyers like UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency.
Donors, including the United States and the European Union, are lining up to help fund an expansion of the institute to incorporate COVID-19 vaccines, the source involved in the fundraiser said.
A call by the institute for initial funding of $ 10 million was oversubscribed, the source said.
A UK government-funded cost analysis conducted for the Institut Pasteur, seen by the same source, said the project would cost around $ 200 million, based on its goal of producing 300 million doses of the COVID-vaccine. 19 by the end of next year.
Funding will depend on the commitment of buyers by the institute. According to the cost analysis, the project would be commercially viable if it produced vaccines other than COVID-19, so that it could continue to operate after the pandemic.
Africa’s struggles to secure vaccine supplies have exposed its vulnerability to health crises and pushed governments to find ways to boost the production of medicines and vaccines.
These efforts are now gaining ground among rich countries.
The European Union said last month it would invest at least € 1 billion to build manufacturing centers in Africa, with Senegal, South Africa, Rwanda, Morocco and Egypt among the main candidates.
South Africa’s Biovac Institute told Reuters it was in contact with the French and German governments and pharmaceutical companies with the goal of producing 30 million COVID-19 vaccines per year.
The South African company Aspen Pharmacare already produces injections of the J&J vaccine locally.
The EU plan, in coordination with the African Union, aims to strengthen drug regulators in Africa, train Africans in the skills needed to develop the pharmaceutical industry, and support companies producing materials and components.
The plan will look at countries that “can act quickly and have the political capital to move this forward,” said John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Africa’s $ 1.3 billion vaccine market could reach $ 5.4 billion by 2030 due to population growth and the availability of new vaccines, U.S. consultancy firm McKinsey and Company said in a report. April report.
There is still a long way to go, experts say.
Beyond the need for financing, governments and regulators must facilitate the transfer of technology to Africa and reduce risks through public-private partnerships.
“These are really mid- to long-term goals, so you’re looking at a minimum of one or two years,” said Chema Triki of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. “It’s not just about COVID. Africa must be ready for the next pandemic.”
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