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New era of health science for Africa

Vaccine plant: Cyril welcomes Africa's new dawn
President Cyril Ramaphosa and health technologies billionaire Soon-Shiong cut the ribbon at the launch of the NantSA vaccine plant in Brackenfell today. (Photo: @PresidencyZA - Twitter)
Written by Nompilo Gwala

President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the opening of a new vaccine plant in Cape Town as Africa’s ticket into a new era of health science during its launch earlier today.

South African-born health technologies billionaire, Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, joined Ramaphosa as they proudly cut the ribbon. The NantSA vaccine plant is expected to produce a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses by 2025.

“We want to manufacture this in Africa for Africa and export it to the world. President Ramaphosa said ‘come home, we will make this happen,’” said Soon-Shiong.

The NantSA vaccine production hub is situated in Brackenfell’s Brackengate Business Park. It will also produce cancer vaccines and next-generation cell-based immunotherapies which would make it the biggest such factory in Africa. Most importantly, it could speed up the continent’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

‘New era of health science for Africa’

Ramaphosa said that this facility would help boost South Africa’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities.

“This state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing campus is part of a far broader initiative to propel Africa into a new era of health science,” said Ramaphosa.

The South African unit of Soon-Shiong’s NantWorks LLC, was established last year.  Soon-Shiong said an estimated R3 billion is needed for plants to be located in several countries.

A chance for the continent to catch up

Africa has struggled to secure vaccines while wealthy countries were administrating shots to their citizens. Statistics show that only 10.1% of the African population (1.2 billion) have been fully vaccinated compared with 62% of Americans and 72% of people in the United Kingdom (UK).

Soon-Shiong’s ImmunityBio Inc. is developing a messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccine which they hope can be used as a universal booster. This could help end the pandemic by targeting the nucleocapsid protein at the core of the coronavirus which is less prone to mutation than the spike proteins targeted by other shots.

The vaccine plant which could employ between 400 to 600 people, is dependent on the vaccine which companies are developing and getting approval for. Several countries including South Africa, Botswana and Australia are currently conducting trials.

A step in the right direction

Ramaphosa said that this coalition would help Africa address its health challenges.

“This NantSA facility will complement the work already done by companies like Aspen, Biovac and Afrigen here in SA. Our goal is to cover the entire vaccine production value chain by upgrading existing capacity and bringing new capacity on board,” said Ramaphosa. – Health-e News

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Nompilo Gwala

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