The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged a substantial $40 million to enhance accessibility to mRNA vaccines in Nigeria and across the African continent, with the goal of combating various diseases, including malaria and tuberculosis.
This funding includes $20 million allocated to Quantoom Biosciences, a biotechnology company headquartered in Nivelles, Belgium, to advance its mRNA manufacturing platform.
Additionally, the Institute Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal and Biovac in South Africa will each receive $5 million to acquire this technology, and an extra $10 million will be available for other vaccine manufacturers interested in adopting the platform.
Access to mRNA vaccines, which played a pivotal role in the global response to COVID-19, has been drastically inequitable.
Consequently, various initiatives have emerged to rectify this imbalance and leverage this innovative technology to address existing threats that disproportionately impact lower-income countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) took a significant step in this direction by inaugurating its mRNA vaccine technology hub in Cape Town in April of this year.
One of its members, Afrigen Biologics, has already succeeded in producing Africa’s first-ever mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 within a laboratory setting.
However, the production of mRNA vaccines remains relatively expensive, particularly when scaling up to meet the requirements for extensive testing and safe, effective vaccine distribution.
Quantoom Biosciences’ platform, named Ntensify, offers a promising solution to this issue. It enables the cost-effective and efficient production of mRNA batches at a larger scale.
A spokesperson for the Gates Foundation emphasised the significance of this development, stating that it represents “an important and necessary step towards vaccine self-reliance in the region,” a sentiment echoed by Amadou Sall, the Chief Executive of the Institut Pasteur de Dakar.
Ntensify initially received funding from the Gates Foundation in 2016 through its parent company, Univercells.
Afrigen is already harnessing this platform for various purposes, including the development of vaccines for Rift Valley fever and gonorrhoea.
Both Gates and Afrigen believe that Ntensify has the potential to reduce vaccine development costs by half compared to traditional mRNA technology.
Petro Terblanche, Chief Executive of Afrigen, emphasised the significance of the “second generation” of mRNA technology, which is primarily focused on cost reduction.
He made these remarks during a phone call from Dakar, underscoring… the importance of making mRNA vaccines more affordable and accessible to address critical health challenges in Africa.