- Cape Town-based biotechnology company Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines has developed its own version of the Covid-19 vaccine
- The WHO hand-picked Afrigen, and one other consortium, to pilot a project that will position the country as a vaccine manufacturer
- The move comes after wealthy countries hoovered up most of the world's supplies of vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic
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CAPE TOWN - South Africa's Afrigen Biologics has used the publicly available sequence of Moderna's Covid-19 mRNA vaccine to make its own version of the shot, which was scheduled to be tested in humans before the end of last year, according to Afrigen's top executive.
The vaccine candidate would be the first to be made based on a widely used vaccine without the assistance and approval of the developer. It is also the first mRNA vaccine designed, developed and produced at lab scale on the African continent.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) last year picked a consortium including Afrigen for a pilot project to give poor and middle-income countries the know-how to make Covid-19 vaccines, aftermarket leaders of the mRNA Covid vaccine, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna, declined a WHO request to share their technology and expertise, Reuters reported.
The WHO and partners hope the hub will help overcome glaring inequalities between rich nations and poorer countries in accessing vaccine doses, with 99% of all of Africa's vaccines imported and the negligible remainder manufactured locally.
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Abundance of public information
During the pandemic, wealthy countries have hoovered up most of the world's supplies of vaccines. Biovac, a partly state-owned South African vaccine producer, will be the first recipient of the technology from the hub.
Afrigen has also agreed to help train companies in Argentina and Brazil. In September, the WHO's hub in Cape Town decided to go it alone after failing to bring on board Pfizer and Moderna, both of which have argued they need to oversee any technology transfer due to the complexity of the manufacturing process.
Moderna's vaccine was chosen due to an abundance of public information and its pledge not to enforce patents during the pandemic. It's not clear what will happen after that. The U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) said it was in talks with Moderna about possible access to some of its patents
Under pressure to make drugs in lower-income countries, Moderna and BioNTech have announced plans to build mRNA vaccine factories in Africa, but production is still a long way off. Biovac has agreed to fill and finish the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the final stages of production, although the drug substance will come from Europe.
"We haven't copied Moderna, we've developed our own processes because Moderna didn't give us any technology," Petro Terblanche, managing director at Afrigen told Reuters.
"We started with the Moderna sequence because that gives, in our view, the best starting material. But this is not Moderna’s vaccine, it is the Afrigen mRNA hub vaccine," Terblanche said.
Next-generation mRNA vaccine
She said it had managed to make, in collaboration with Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, its first micro-litre laboratory-scale batches of Covid-19 mRNA vaccines at the Cape Town facility.
Terblanche said it was working on a next-generation mRNA vaccine that didn't need freezing temperatures for storage, required for the Pfizer and Moderna doses, and which would be better suited to the hot conditions of Africa with its poor health facilities and infrastructure.
Afrigen was recruiting staff and receiving training from international partners including Thermo Fisher Scientific, she said.
"We will only make our clinical trial batch probably in six months from now, (meaning) ... fit for humans. And the target is November 2022," Terblanche added.
Online training for other companies to make the shot started with manufacturers in Brazil and Argentina last year. Afrigen expects to get more onboard within the next month.
Lions and pumas contract 'severe' Covid-19
Elsewhere, Briefly News previously reported that a group of Lions and pumas have been infected with Covid-19 at a zoo in Tshwane after the virus was passed onto the animals by zookeepers who weren't displaying any symptoms.
Studies carried out by a local tertiary institution indicated the emergence of possible new Covid-19 variants from animal sanctuaries. According to a TimesLIVE report, a 2020 research article showed that the droppings from a pair of pumas that had diarrhoea and anorexia, among other things, showed the animals had Covid-19.
However, according to the University of Pretoria (UP), the cougars made a full recovery after nearly one month. Since then, amid the country's third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic driven by the delta variant, three lions tested positive for the coronavirus.
Source: Briefly News