The Cape Town-based Biovac Institute has pulled off a Covid-19 vaccine production coup, with Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE announcing on Wednesday that they had signed a deal with Biovac to manufacture the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for distribution in Africa.
US-based Pfizer is the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, while BioNTech is a German biotechnology company. Their Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be made at the Biovac facility from next year, with substances for the drug to be obtained from facilities in Europe.
“Manufacturing of completed doses will start in 2022,” the groups confirmed in a joint statement, adding that annual production at the facility will exceed 100 million finished doses.
In a boost for the continent’s vaccination drive, all doses will exclusively be distributed within the 55 member states that make up the African Union (AU).
“From day one, our goal has been to provide fair and equitable access of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine to everyone everywhere,” said Pfizer CEO and chair Albert Bourla.
“Our latest collaboration with Biovac is a shining example of the tireless work being done, in this instance to benefit Africa.
“We will continue to explore and pursue opportunities to bring new partners into our supply chain network, including in Latin America, to further accelerate access of Covid-19 vaccines,” he added.
The manufacturing and distribution activities will be performed within Pfizer and BioNTech’s global Covid-19 vaccine supply chain and manufacturing network, which will now span three continents and include more than 20 manufacturing facilities.
Work already underway
According to Pfizer and BioNTech, activities to facilitate Biovac’s involvement in the processes – including technical transfer, on-site development and equipment installation – has already begun.
“We aim to enable people on all continents to manufacture and distribute our vaccine while ensuring the quality of the manufacturing process and the doses,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech.
Biovac CEO Dr Morena Makhoana said the institute is thrilled about the collaboration with Pfizer and BioNTech.
“This is testament of the long-standing relationship we have had with Pfizer through the Prevenar 13 vaccine,” he said.
“This is a critical step forward in strengthening sustainable access to a vaccine in the fight against this tragic, worldwide pandemic.”
“We believe this collaboration will create opportunity to more broadly distribute vaccine doses to people in harder-to-reach communities, especially those on the African continent,” added Makhoana.
A breakthrough for Africa
President Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking in his capacity as AU champion on Covid-19, hailed the announcement as “a breakthrough in the protection of African nations against Covid-19”.
“Today’s agreement will contribute significantly to health security and sustainability on our continent, which currently has the least access to vaccination in the world.
“Biovac is a vaccine producer and public-private partnership between the South African government and the pharmaceutical private sector,” said Ramaphosa, adding that the collaboration makes Biovac the first company on the continent to produce an mRNA-based vaccine.
Western Cape MEC of Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier also welcomed the announcement.
“The Biovac Institute has long been a centre of excellence for the development and manufacture of quality vaccines for Africa,” he said.
“This announcement is also a welcome boost of confidence to the economy in Cape Town and the Western Cape, which is already a leading hub for health tech and innovation in the medical sector.”
Listen to Fifi Peters’s interview with Biovac CEO Dr Morena Makhoana: