Cape Town/Geneva, 18 February 2022
Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia will be the first recipients of technology from the COVID-19 mRNA technology transfer hub. The hub aims to support and facilitate technology transfer of the mRNA vaccine platform to interested manufacturers in countries in Africa, as well as other low- and middle-income countries, in order to scale-up local vaccine manufacturing capacity.
The hub’s research and development partner, South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, recently succeeded in producing micro-litre laboratory scale batches of an mRNA vaccine based on the publicly available sequence of US pharmaceutical corporation Moderna’s largely publicly funded vaccine, despite a lack of assistance from the corporation. The timeline for the hub’s production of a final mRNA vaccine candidate, and eventual technology transfer to manufacturers, is considerable, but could be significantly shortened if Moderna were to lend the hub technical assistance.
Kate Stegeman, Advocacy Coordinator, MSF Access Campaign, Africa region:
“MSF welcomes today’s announcement that 6 countries will receive technology from the WHO COVID-19 mRNA technology transfer hub in South Africa. This announcement marks a welcome milestone on the road to expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity in lower- and middle-income countries.
“It’s encouraging to see the mRNA technology transfer hub getting closer to developing and validating the world’s first open access mRNA vaccine production platform. The recent news that Afrigen has succeeded in making a full prototype of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine based on Moderna’s model is a really promising first step, but many more strides are needed, including developing a more heat-stable version, performing clinical trials, and developing a large-scale manufacturing process. These highly technical developments are needed alongside the hub offering training and technology transfer activities to manufacturers, going forward. MSF therefore urges the pharma corporation Moderna, whose vaccine is closest to the one designed by Afrigen, to lend the hub technical assistance so to shorten the vaccine production timeline.
“While the hub is undoubtedly an important initiative today and for future pandemic preparedness, the fastest way to start vaccine production in African countries and other regions with limited vaccine production is still through full and transparent transfer of vaccine know-how of already-approved mRNA technologies to able companies, with existing capacity that can be retrofitted to produce mRNA vaccines. Notably, MSF research has identified over 100 manufacturers across Asia, Africa and Latin America with the potential to manufacture mRNA vaccines.
“Diversifying mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity to low- and middle-income countries should be a global health priority. More regions producing mRNA vaccines as essential preparedness against infectious diseases could bolster the response not only to COVID-19 and future infectious diseases, but also potentially to existing ones such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.”
WHO’s COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub and all technology transfer partners should ensure that the mRNA technology shared is either free of intellectual property constraints, at least in all low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), or that intellectual property rights are made available through transparent, non-exclusive licenses to produce, export and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in all LMICs, including through the COVAX Facility. Additionally, Moderna should immediately withdraw all patents and applications related to mRNA vaccines that the corporation has been granted in South Africa. These patents could create legal risks of potential patent disputes for entities that acquire technologies from the COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa, established in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). Read more about patent barriers on mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa, here.