In a world first, South Africa’s Afrigen is making a COVID mRNA vaccine using data from Moderna

CAPE TOWN, Feb 3 (Reuters) – South African company Afrigen Biologics has used the publicly available sequence of Moderna Inc’s (MRNA.O) COVID-19 mRNA vaccine to create its own version of the vaccine, which could be tested in the man before the end of this year, Afrigen’s top executive said on Thursday.

The vaccine candidate would be the first to be made from a widely used vaccine without developer assistance and approval. It is also the first mRNA vaccine designed, developed and produced at laboratory scale on the African continent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) last year selected a consortium including Afrigen for a pilot project aimed at giving poor and middle-income countries the know-how to manufacture COVID vaccines, after leaders of the COVID mRNA vaccine market, Pfizer (PFE.N), BioNTech (22UAy.DE) and Moderna (MRNA.O), declined a request from the WHO to share their technology and expertise.

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WHO and consortium partners hope their technology transfer center will help overcome inequalities between rich and poor countries in access to vaccines. Some 99% of African vaccines against all diseases are imported and the tiny remainder is manufactured locally.

During the pandemic, wealthy countries absorbed most of the world’s vaccine supplies.

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 form businesses in Argentina and Brazil.

In September, the WHO center in Cape Town decided to go it alone after failing to onboard Pfizer and Moderna, who both argued they had to oversee any technology transfer due to the complexity of the manufacturing process. .

Moderna had no immediate comment on Afrigen’s announcement on Thursday.

Moderna’s vaccine was chosen by the WHO due to an abundance of public information and the company’s commitment not to enforce patents during the pandemic. It’s unclear what will happen after the pandemic ends and whether the company will attempt to enforce them again.


“If this project shows that Africa can adopt cutting-edge technology and produce cutting-edge products, it will banish this idea that Africa cannot do it and change the global mindset…it can change deal,” Charles Gore, executive director of the MPP, told Reuters at the premises of Afrigen, a converted warehouse.

Under pressure to manufacture drugs in low-income countries, Moderna and BioNTech have announced plans to build mRNA vaccine factories in Africa, but production is still a long way off.

“We didn’t copy Moderna, we developed our own processes because Moderna didn’t provide us with any technology,” Afrigen chief executive Petro Terblanche told Reuters.

“We started with the Moderna sequence because it gives, in our opinion, the best starting material. But it’s not Moderna’s vaccine, it’s Afrigen’s mRNA hub vaccine,” Terblanche said. .

She then took a delegation of EU diplomats to tour the state-of-the-art facility where scientists were seen making mRNA in sterile white-walled rooms.

She said she had successfully manufactured, in collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, her first laboratory batches of micro-litres of COVID mRNA vaccines at the Cape Town facility.


Terblanche said Afrigen was also working on a next-generation mRNA vaccine that didn’t need freezing temperatures for storage, required for Pfizer and Moderna doses, and would be better suited to Africa, which is often faced with high temperatures and poor sanitation. and infrastructure.

“We will probably only do our batch of clinical trials in six months, (that is) … suitable for humans. And the goal is November 2022,” added Terblanche.

Online training for other companies to make the move began with manufacturers in Brazil and Argentina last year. Afrigen expects to get more over the next month.

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Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio Editing by Tim Cocks, Josephine Mason, Mark Potter and Frances Kerry

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