South African-American businessman Patrick Soon-Shiong opened a new vaccine plant in Cape Town yesterday intended to help his local NantSA company make Covid-19 shots in future and address the continent's lack of manufacturing capacity.
"Africa should no longer be last in line to access vaccines against pandemics. Africa should no longer go cap in hand to the Western world, begging and begging for vaccines," said President Cyril Ramaphosa, who attended the opening.
Soon-Shiong, who is also a medical doctor, will transfer technology and materials for RNA, adjuvant vaccine platforms and cell therapy from his California-based NantWorks to scientists in South Africa, where they will also work on vaccines targeting cancer, TB and HIV.
"We have now the capability to use the human capital of South Africans to build 21st century medicine," Soon-Shiong said, adding that the opportunity existed to "literally airdrop" bioreactors, stockpiled at his US factories, into the buildings and create state-of-the-art biological manufacturing, with first production of vaccines seen later this year.
To ensure a pipeline of skilled workers, Soon-Shiong has pledged R100 million for scholarships.
But health experts have warned that obstacles, including electricity and water shortages that hamper manufacturing processes, must be tackled before Africa can become self-reliant and wean itself off imported vaccines.
Another one of Soon-Shiong's firms, ImmunityBio, is currently testing a novel coronavirus vaccine candidate in South Africa that looks at priming the body's soldier T cells to kill the coronavirus and prevent it replicating.