By Ludwig Burger
(Reuters) -COVID-19 vaccine maker BioNTech said on Friday it was looking into building malaria and tuberculosis vaccine production sites in Rwanda and Senegal, narrowing its search for African locations.
The future malaria and tuberculosis vaccines would be based on the so-called messenger RNA technology, also used in its COVID-19 shot, the German drugmaker said.
BioNTech did not say when production was likely to start. In July it said it would seek to develop a vaccine for the mosquito-borne illness malaria, eyeing production in Africa, as it seeks to build on its success with Partner in COVID-19 shots.
In a meeting with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Senegalese President Macky Sall and European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Berlin on Friday, BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin affirmed the German biotech firm’s intention to manufacture mRNA vaccines on the African continent, BioNTech said.
The sites would be near prospective vaccine hubs planned by the World Health Organization (WHO), the company added.
The project to develop manufacturing expertise on the African continent marks a longer-term attempt to avoid a repeat of healthcare inequalities brought to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO has criticised a COVID-19 vaccine supply gap between industrialised nations and low-income countries, particularly in Africa.
Attempts to set up African production of COVID-19 vaccines have been limited so far.
Senegal’s Institut Pasteur of Dakar (IPD) this month reached a deal with U.S. company MedInstill for the bottling of COVID-19 shots. IPD, however, has yet to secure a partnership with a vaccine patent holder.
Pfizer and BioNTech last month struck a deal for South Africa’s Biovac Institute to process over 100 million doses a year of their vaccine for Africa. Biovac will carry out final production steps and bottling based on imported active substance in a process known as fill and finish.
Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has enlisted South African drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare also for the fill and finish process based on imported vaccine substance.
Senegal’s Institut Pasteur is the only facility in Africa currently producing a vaccine – a yellow fever shot – that is pre-qualified by the WHO, which requires manufacturers to meet strict international standards.
There are currently fewer than 10 African manufacturers that produce vaccines against any disease, in Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
The EU has said it wants to back the development of vaccine production hubs in at least three African countries, including Senegal and South Africa.
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger, editing by Thomas Escritt and Susan Fenton)