BioNTech, a leading biotechnology company on Thursday laid a foundation stone for the construction of the first manufacturing site for mRNA-based vaccines in Africa, expected to address the issue of vaccine equity.
The facility in Kigali will be based on BioNTainer concept-- exact replications of the BioNTech factory in Marburg, Germany, according to Ugur Sahin, the chief executive officer and co-founder of BioNTech.
At an event in the Special Economic Zone, Sahin described the groundbreaking ceremony as a milestone in the setting up of scalable mRNA vaccine production in Africa.
The company expects to set up additional factories in Senegal and South Africa in close coordination with its partners in the respective countries.
"We have reached the next milestone with the construction start of the first African mRNA manufacturing facility based on our BioNTainers - just four months after we introduced the BioNTainer concept in February," he said.
"This factory will be the first in an African network to provide sustainable production capacity for mRNA pharmaceuticals. Further manufacturing facilities in Africa and on other continents are planned to follow. The goal we pursue together with governments and regulatory authorities is to produce vaccines for Africa here with highly skilled professionals from Africa," he added.
The company's program aims to develop a highly effective malaria vaccine based on BioNTech's mRNA platform with the vaccine candidates expected to enter first-in-human trials later in 2022, according to Sahin.
"The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the need for significantly greater local production of vaccines and other essential products in all regions of the world, especially in Africa which relies heavily on imported products and was left behind in the global rush for COVID-19 vaccines," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General.
"I welcome BioNTech's efforts to establish manufacturing sites in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa, as well as its plans to commence clinical trials of its malaria vaccine candidates later this year," he said.
The RPF Chairman and Rwandan President, H.E Paul Kagame said, by working with other partners, Rwanda would build on the investment to attract a vibrant biopharmaceutical research and manufacturing sector.
"We are happy to have BioNTech as a partner, and I applaud the company's commitment to working with Africa on a continental basis to help secure our vaccine resilience for the future and invest in new research to address the endemic diseases that disproportionately affect our people," he said.