FRANKFURT - BioNTech on Tuesday signed an agreement with the Rwandan government and Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal on the construction of a first mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in Africa starting in mid-2022, to help the continent ease health inequalities compared with other world regions.
BioNTech, which developed the western world's most widely used COVID-19 shots with partner Pfizer, will initially build a production line with 50 million doses annual capacity that could be used to make vaccines for such diseases as malaria and tuberculosis as well as for COVID-19, the company said in a statement and through a spokesperson.
This will be branched out into a wider production network making several hundred millions of mRNA vaccine doses per year with the goal to transfer ownership and know-how to partners on the continent, the biotech firm added.
"Our goal is to develop vaccines in the African Union and to establish sustainable vaccine production capabilities to jointly improve medical care in Africa," said BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin.
The partners may decide to make mRNA vaccines against other diseases, such as malaria or tuberculosis, depending on future development progress and medical needs, a company spokesperson said.
The project marks a longer-term attempt to avoid a repeat of healthcare inequalities brought to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Today's agreements are key step towards producing vaccines end-to-end in Africa,” Rwandan Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said during the signing ceremony, adding that the goal was to include the continent in the "networks of science, innovation and production.”
Speaking at a media briefing in the Rwandan capital Kigali, European Union Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said that the initial site would be built in Rwanda.
The announcements add details to plans - unveiled by BioNTech in August - to build malaria and tuberculosis vaccine production sites in Rwanda and Senegal, at the time narrowing its search for African locations.
BioNTech added on Tuesday that Rwanda and Senegal's Institut Pasteur de Dakar would build facilities for final production steps and bottling in a process known as fill and finish, in parallel with BioNTech's construction activities.
The German group said it was also talks in with South Africa’s Biovac Institute about expansion of their current manufacturing partnership.
BioNTech and Pfizer in July struck a deal for Biovac to fill and finish over 100 million doses a year of their COVID-19 vaccine for Africa, based on imported active substance.
Also in July, it said it would seek to develop a malaria vaccine, eyeing production in Africa.
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Additional reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana in Kigali; Editing by Riham Alkousaa, Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlopfsky) ((email@example.com; +49 30 220133634; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))