BioNTech and Pfizer today announced an agreement with South African biopharmaceutical company Biovac to complete the final step in the production process of their coronavirus vaccine and distribute it on the vaccine starved continent.
The companies signed a letter of intent that Biovac would begin “filling and finishing” the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine from 2022, with their facility integrated into the BioNTech / Pfizer supply chain by the end of of this year. The drug substance will come from European facilities. Ultimately, the partners hope that Biovac will be able to fill and finish more than 100 million doses that would be exclusively distributed within the African Union.
This is an important step towards vaccine production on the African continent, which has relied on vaccines produced elsewhere. But today’s deal is still limited, as it would allow Biovac to participate only in the final stage of vaccine manufacturing, which has been a point of contention for many critics.
“We aim to enable people on all continents to manufacture and distribute our vaccine while ensuring the quality of the manufacturing process and doses,” said Uğur Şahin, CEO of BioNTech. “Our mRNA technology can be used to develop candidate vaccines against other diseases as well. That is why we will continue to assess sustainable approaches that will support the development and production of mRNA vaccines on the African continent.
A separate technology transfer center for mRNA coronavirus vaccines has been established by the World Health Organization, with which Biovac is a partner. However, the hub also aims to support the production of the drug substance, which is a much more complex process.
So far, neither BioNTech / Pfizer nor Moderna have indicated that they want to work with the hub.