It is only a matter of time before South Africa can manufacture its own vaccines not only for Covid-19 but for similar pandemics in the future. This is the view of the ‘Inter-ministerial Committee on Covid-19 Vaccines’ delegation after they visited Biovac, bio-pharmaceutical company in Pinelands last week Friday.
The visit comes at the time when the country is ramping up the roll-out of its vaccination programme. Recent reports from experts monitoring the pandemic suggest that the country should brace itself for a possible third wave of the Covid-19.
Led by the deputy president, David Mabuza, the delegation went to see for themselves the scientific capabilities and biotechnology infrastructure that could enable local vaccine manufacture.
According to the statement by the department of science and innovation (DSI), the Cape Town-based facility already has the capability to perform a range of basic vaccines development and manufacturing functions. Chief among these are product development, the formulation and filing of vaccines, packaging and labelling, as well as cold chain and distribution processes.
Said Mabuza: “Part of implementing a successful Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan means we have to explore our capability of locally manufacturing vaccines in line with the industrial policy of the country.”
Last November Biovac commenced the local manufacture of the world’s first fully liquid hexavalent (6-in-1) vaccine in partnership with Sanofi. Called Hexaxim, the vaccine protects against six childhood diseases, namely, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza Type B and poliomyelitis.
Mabuza emphasised the significance for the locally manufactured vaccine saying this is more critical as the country is currently in the process of inoculating its population against the Covid-19 pandemic. He said government aims to vaccinate one million people by the second week of April. Although the availability of vaccines is not as expected, more doses are expected within the next few weeks, added Mabuza.
Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, science and innovation, who was also part of the delegation, said the Biovac facility was moving up fast the value chain in order to manufacture vaccines, starting with a vaccine for Covid-19 and then looking at other diseases.
He also used the opportunity to announce a partnership agreement between Biovac and ImmunityBio. The latter, a US-based immunotherapy company, is owned by South African-born Patrick Soon-Shiong. Added Nzimande: “The company is currently doing clinical trials in Khayelitsha and the US, and whatever gets produced from that process we will be partners.”
Biovac confirmed it had entered into a strategic collaboration with ImmunityBio to develop the full value-chain capability for manufacturing biologicals in South Africa, including the Covid-19 vaccine. ImmunityBio has already developed a Covid-19 vaccine intended to be more broadly protective than the current first-generation vaccines.
The critical element of the collaboration between the two companies will be technology transfer. The aim is to build capability for active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacture and capability in South Africa, for South Africa and for export markets.
The developed capability would initially be targeted at a Covid-19 vaccine, which would form the basis for Biovac and South Africa to be able to respond to future pandemics, said DSI.
Minister of international relations, Dr Naledi Pandor and deputy minister of health Dr Joe Phaahla, were also part of the visit.