SOUTH AFRICA – United States-based multinational conglomerate NantWorks has entered into an agreement with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) for the transfer of manufacturing technology for Covid-19 and cancer vaccines and next-generation cell-based immunotherapies.
This is a major boost to the country’s healthcare system in its efforts to treat infectious diseases such as cancer, HIV, tuberculosis and, more recently, Covid-19.
As of 2019, South Africa had 7.5 million people living with HIV, 200,000 new HIV infections and 72,000 AIDS-related deaths.
As a nation, South Africa is showing impressive progress with life expectancy up from 56 to 63, connected to the success of the country’s antiretroviral therapy (ART) programme and HIV prevention tactics.
While the science for the cure looks promising, economic inequity will create problems and access to the vaccine, just as with the current COVID-19 vaccine access crisis.
Working with universities and healthcare facilities nationwide, the partnership expects to accelerate the development of next generation vaccines for infectious diseases and cancer across the African continent.
“There is such an unmet need to treat life-threatening infectious diseases such as AIDS, TB and now Covid-19. Of equal concern is the poor survival rate of patients suffering from cancer in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. The astounding advances in science have enabled new paradigms of care involving activating the immune system and changing outcomes for these diseases,” founder of NantWorks, South African-born Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong said.
The collaboration between NantWorks and leading healthcare and research hubs in the country hopes to expedite and expand the manufacture of biologics, immunotherapeutics and vaccines in South Africa through technology transfer and advanced manufacturing facilities.
Under the agreement, the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation will be launched in collaboration with the SAMRC and the universities of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal and will primarily focus on the genomic surveillance of, and response to, viral mutations occurring in Africa.
It will also see the establishment of clinical centres offering the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases in a collaboration between SAMRC and the universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal.
“This technology transfer, including manufacturing biologics, will reinforce vaccine equity sorely needed globally,” President Cyril Ramaphosa, who attended the launch, said.