Cape Town based biotech company, Biovac is playing a crucial role in supporting the local human vaccine sector. By building the capacity required to manufacture locally, the company is assisting the country in preparing for future pandemics. Through sustainable and continuous investment in the industry, African countries will be afforded equitable access to vaccines, even when in high demand.
Unlike other continents, Africa has limited vaccine manufacturing capacity and capability. “Local production of vaccines will not only improve our self-sufficiency when it comes to accessing vaccines, but also enable further capacity building within Southern Africa,” says Biovac CEO, Dr Morena Makhoana.
Biovac, is at the advanced stage of their technology transfer with global pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur for a fully liquid hexavalent vaccine. This is a core vaccine in the national immunisation programme, with roll-out of local manufacturing on the cards in the coming months.
“Unlike typical pharmaceutical production processes, vaccine manufacturing capacity building, is a lengthy, complex and expensive process. The local manufacturing of vaccines will strengthen our position in responding to local and regional diseases and prepare us for future pandemic readiness,” says Makhoana.
One of the major benefits to locally produced vaccines is the aspect of security of supply; “By developing and manufacturing vaccines on the African continent, we will be able to better meet the local demand and limit overreliance on fully imported vaccines, which we’ve previously experienced,” says Makhoana.
The human vaccine industry occupies a small portion of the global pharmaceutical market, with few Research and Development (R&D) projects making it to commercialisation. To combat the high barrier-to-entry industry, Biovac adopted a reverse integration strategy to their value chain. This approach has been successfully used in developing countries such as Brazil, Russia, Argentina and Turkey. Beginning with the packaging and distribution, the model steadily builds capacity towards local manufacturing of top priority vaccines.
“Nurturing local manufacturing capacity is crucial to responding to disease outbreak emergencies. COVID-19 has shown us that it is essential to promote and invest in the regional capacity for the development and production of vaccines in Africa,” says Makhoana.
Biovac was established in 2003 to revive local human vaccine production and is the only vaccine manufacturer in Southern Africa. Alongside the development of modern facilities, the company has secured high profile technology transfers from international pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Sanofi Pasteur. The company currently sources and supplies a comprehensive range of paediatric vaccines required for the Department of Health’s Expanded Programme of Immunisation. Supplying over 15-million doses of vaccines per year, across South Africa and into neighbouring countries.
“One of our key focus areas is to develop the expertise and skills associated with local vaccine production. This will ensure South Africa has the required biotechnology skills and ability to engage in technology and skills transfer to the benefit of the African continent,” says Makhoana.