Pfizer/BioNTech strike COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing deal with Biovac South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA – Pfizer Inc and BioNTech have entered into a deal with South Africa’s Biovac Institute to process and distribute over 100 million doses a year of their COVID-19 vaccine for the African Union starting 2022.

Biovac, a public-private partnership focused on vaccine production, will receive COVID-19 vaccine drug substance made in plants in Europe, and will begin so-called fill-finish operations, the last stage of drug manufacturing and packaging, in 2022.

The deal, under which the Cape Town-based Biovac Institute will fill vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and ready them for shipment, follows growing pressure from the U.S., Europe and international organizations for drug makers to do more to tackle global inequities in accessing Covid-19 shots.

Recently, the U.S. said it would back a proposal led by South Africa and India to suspend protections on intellectual property underlying Covid-19 vaccines to widen production, especially in developing countries. The initiative is vehemently opposed by most big drug makers, including Pfizer.

Just 1.5% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, after rich countries bought up much of this year’s supply of the shots and deliveries from the World Health Organization-backed COVAX program.

African officials say that one of the main reasons that they have struggled to secure Covid-19 shots is the lack of manufacturing facilities on the continent.

Many governments, including the U.S. and the world’s biggest vaccine maker, India, have restricted exports of shots as they race to inoculate their own populations.

“The only way to solve this is to allow Africa to produce,” Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwean telecommunications tycoon who heads the African Union’s vaccine-purchasing task team, said last month.

The deal between Pfizer/BioNTech and Biovac, a public-private partnership between the South African government and a consortium of local drug makers, only partially addresses demands from African officials to have more control over their vaccine supply chains.

The WHO and other public-health organizations have been pushing to bring new mRNA technology, on which the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is based, to Africa.

Last month, the World Health Organization said it was setting up a hub, or training facility, in South Africa to give companies there the know-how and licenses to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Biovac is one of the initial participants in the hub.

The Pfizer/BioNTech announcement follows a similar deal forged late last year between South Africa-based Aspen Pharmacare Holdings and Johnson & Johnson to fill vials and package 300 million doses of the U.S. company’s Covid-19 shot.

Aspen also doesn’t have a license to make the drug substance used in the J&J shot, a setup that has led to delays in delivering shots ordered by the South African government.

In June, Aspen had to destroy some two million finished vaccine doses, which had potentially been contaminated by the Baltimore-based plant that produced the drug substance for J&J.

We believe that our mRNA technology can be used to develop vaccine candidates addressing other diseases as well. This is why we will continue to evaluate sustainable approaches that will support the development and production of mRNA vaccines on the African continent,” said BioNTech’s Chief Executive, Ugur Sahin.

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