A South African consortium made up of experts in public health, medicine, academia, vaccine technology, technology transfer and the economic sector has set its sights on producing a Covid-19 vaccine at one-fifth the price of Pfizer’s.
The Rubic Consortium is led by former ANC treasurer-general and lawyer Mathews Phosa, medical doctor Sandy Pillay, chartered accountant Alf Farrell and applied economist Julian Naidoo.
Naidoo said on Wednesday that the consortium had scored a technology transfer and licensing agreement with biotechnology company Dyadic International, aiming to develop and commercialise vaccines for distribution throughout the African continent.
“South Africa and other countries on the continent are heavily dependent on foreign vaccine production and technology transfer, and have not adopted an integrated approach to vaccine research and development, manufacturing and distribution.”
Naidoo said the vaccine delivery cycle elements were currently being structured on a disparate basis, the vaccine suffered from loss of efficiency as the value chain is far removed from patient populations, and there was dependence on foreign vaccine production and technology transfer.
He said the available vaccines also came at a high price, citing as an example that, while Pfizer cost above $22 (R322), the consortium aimed to “produce the Dyadic Covid-19 vaccine at one-fifth of the price”.
“Our intention is to provide accessible and affordable vaccines to Africans, establish a vaccine research hub to leverage local scientific capability in the region and establish a vaccine-manufacturing unit with the infrastructure, processing operations and capabilities for the manufacture and distribution of high-quality vaccines throughout the continent,” he said.
He said the consortium, working together with the Wits Health Consortium (a wholly owned product of Wits University), was cognisant of the complexity of vaccine manufacturing in South Africa and other African countries, and consequently adopted “a pragmatic, risk-based approach to vaccine security for Africa”.
This included “a feasibility study by the end of August to assess viability of our initiative, completing phase 2 and 3 clinical trials for the Dyadic C1 Covid-19 vaccine (DYAI-100), establishing appropriate skills-transfer programmes, ensuring regulatory compliance and local research and development of other vaccine candidates by our scientific team”.
In terms of the risk-managed approach, the project team had invested significant resources in a bankable feasibility study outsourced to a highly credible and internationally respected service provider, said Naidoo. He added that, “Basing the project on this thoroughly researched exercise will provide guidance and reduce risks in the roll-out.”
Local universities and research units have been invited to come on board.
“This is a unique opportunity for institutions of higher learning to cooperate in research, drug development and clinical studies. The approach has various synergistic outcomes including the expansion of graduate programmes to include vaccinology and increased research opportunities for graduates, and will provide institutions with previously untapped revenue streams and equity in an innovative business initiative.
“Overseeing the implementation of the technologies introduced or developed is a team of leading academics directed by the Wits academic team, with the support of the Wits Health Consortium,” he said.