South Africa’s Biovac signs deal to produce oral cholera vaccine

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A vial labelling machine at Biovac.
A vial labelling machine at Biovac.
Zakiyah Ebrahim

The Biovac Institute, a partly state-owned vaccine producer in South Africa, has secured a deal to make an oral cholera inoculation as recent global outbreaks of the diarrheal disease have raised demand for vaccines. 

The agreement with the International Vaccine Institute includes both licensing and technology transfer and is significant for Biovac because drug substance manufacturing capability will be built. 

Being able to produce the raw material needed to make vaccines is one of the last steps manufacturers on the continent are widely missing and will help scale up the local production of clinical trial products in Africa.

"The Covid-19 pandemic exposed Africa’s lack of local production capacity," Morena Makhoana, the chief executive officer of Biovac, said in a statement Wednesday.

"It became clear that increasing self-sufficiency is important if Africa is to have better control over its own public health and vaccine supply chains."Less than 1% of the world’s vaccines are made in Africa, even as infectious diseases are the leading cause of death on the continent, especially in children younger than five years old. Cholera is contracted by ingesting contaminated food or water and kills as many as 143 000 people globally each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Climate change, armed conflict and displacements have added to the risk of cholera outbreaks including in Haiti, Pakistan, Nigeria and Malawi.Biovac has been ramping up its ability to make vaccines and in September produced its first batch of Covid-19 shots. This was part of an arrangement to fill and package as many as 100 million doses a year of Pfizerand BioNtech’s inoculation. 

The technology transfer process for the oral cholera vaccine will start in January, with the first clinical trial batches expected to be produced in 2024. The first phase of the project will be supported by R120 million from Wellcome and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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