Speaking at the World Health Organization‘s 6th Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Facilitation Council meeting, Soon-Shiong said his company, ImmunityBio, and the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation would invest an initial 3 billion South African rand in efforts to transfer the latest vaccine technology and know-how to companies in South Africa working to develop second-generation vaccines that address variants of the virus with the potential to make existing vaccines less effective. South Africa, where Soon-Shiong was born, has recorded the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the continent to date.
Earlier this year, the Biovac Institute, one of two South African manufacturers involved in the production of coronavirus vaccines, announced a partnership with ImmunityBio to help produce an experimental vaccine based on an adenovirus vector that is in Phase I clinical trials in the U.S. and South Africa.
Soon-Shiong, who signed the Giving Pledge in 2010, said he hoped that the transferred technology — which will include therapies and vaccines built on viral vectors, messenger RNA, and adjuvants — would be used not only to address the immediate coronavirus emergency but neglected tropical diseases such as schistosomiasis, a parasitic infection common in sub-Saharan Africa, as well.
South Africa and India are leading a campaign to force drug manufacturers to waive patents and share so-called vaccine recipes with the aim of accelerating the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that African nations account for only about 1.5 percent of vaccines administered globally, Bloomberg reports.
“As important as the intellectual-property waiving is, the issue is the transfer of real know-how,” said Soon-Shiong. “I don’t think the world yet recognizes that these current variants, especially now the variant that started in India and in South Africa, has what we call confirmational change — antibodies are going to be less effective. What we really need now is second-generation vaccines.”