R3bn invested in new NantSA vaccine manufacturing hub

Cape Town facility aims to advance vaccine manufacturing and build Africa’s pharmaceutical capacity.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and NantWorks founder Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong cut the ribbon during the launch of the facility. Image: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Around R3 billion has been invested in establishing a new vaccine manufacturing campus in the Mother City, dubbed NantSA and driven by South African-born biotech billionaire Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong and his company NantWorks LLC.

Soon-Shiong highlighted this during the launch of the project alongside President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday. He says the facility aims to generate one billion doses of various vaccines by 2025.

Speaking at the event, Ramaphosa hailed the investment saying the facility in Cape Town’s Brackengate industrial region will usher in a new era in healthcare, medicines, and vaccines for Africa.

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“This NantSA facility will make a vital contribution to this mission, complementing the work already being done by companies like Aspen, Biovac and Afrigen here in South Africa and several other companies in other parts of the continent.

“Our goal is to cover the entire vaccine production value chain by upgrading existing capacity and bringing new capacity on board,” added Ramaphosa.

“Through the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with numerous institutions across the continent, and with the support of many international partners, we have mounted a formidable response to Covid-19 in Africa.”

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Soon-Shiong said vaccines will be fully manufactured by the facility, as the aim is to make South Africa the “nucleus of the world”.

“I think one of the opportunities here is to make vaccines completely, from start to finish. The opportunity here is we are going to be generating self-amplifying RNA [ribonucleic acid] all the way from scratch.

“We hope that within the year, the first drug substances will be produced in this facility.”

Ramaphosa said the facility will push the continent towards an era of self-reliance.

“Africa should no longer be the last in line to access vaccines against pandemics. Africa should no longer go cap in hand to the Western world begging for vaccines. We will stand on our own. This we are determined to do, and this facility is proof of that.

“We stand ready to contribute to global scientific inquiry and knowledge and to develop treatments, diagnostics and vaccines that will serve humanity.

“A great foundation is being built [and] we are moving beyond tackling Covid-19,” said Ramaphosa.

“We are beginning to tackle health systems on our continent [and] to tackle the surveillance of future pandemics.”

Read: Stop hoarding Covid vaccines, Ramaphosa tells rich countries

Ramaphosa cautioned that although the African Union has done much in the supply of medical equipment and the acquisition of at least 500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses for the continent, there’s still more work to be done.

“We need more vaccine doses, we need better therapeutics, and we need to protect the people of our continent against future variants and future pandemics. We have seen that if we want to safeguard the health of our people, we need to have the means, the technology and the resources to produce vaccines and treatments for all the diseases that afflict the people of our continent,” he said.

The formation of the Coalition to Accelerate Africa’s Access to Advanced Healthcare, which aims to accelerate local production of pharmaceuticals, biologics and vaccines for Africa, was announced during the NantSA launch.

Ramaphosa said this coalition represents a step towards uniting biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, non-profit organisations and academia.

“The coalition gives effect to our firm belief that Africa needs to harness its skills and resources and identify opportunities for collaboration across several countries,” he added.

It was also revealed during the launch that Soon-Shiong and his company will create a scholarship programme worth R100 million to educate and create a skilled work force in the biotechnology and life sciences industry.

“These scholarships will significantly assist in building capacity across Africa and establish a legacy of excellence and innovation in science for decades to come,” he said.

“Africa stands ready to enter a new age of medical science.”

Palesa Mofokeng is a Moneyweb intern.

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You have to admire how quickly government officials are available for the opening of a new business, but how reluctant they are to get involved when their tripartite counterparts, the unions, are making outlandish demands or their electorate are burning down and looting businesses.

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