The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $40 million investment to support the production of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines in Africa.
While it may take up to three years for these vaccines to be approved and available, this move is seen as a significant stride towards enhancing “vaccine equity”.
Bill Gates emphasized the potential of mRNA technology in combating both local and global diseases, citing diseases like Rift Valley fever and TB. The investment is part of the foundation’s broader efforts to address global health challenges.
The initiative involves collaboration with key institutions, notably Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, and South Africa-based company Biovac. These organizations will utilize an mRNA research and manufacturing platform developed by Quantoom Biosciences in Belgium.
The foundation is allocating $5 million to each of the Africa-based vaccine manufacturers, while an additional $10 million is set aside for yet-to-be-announced companies. The remaining $20 million is allocated to Quantoom for further technological advancement and cost reduction.
mRNA technology gained prominence with the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer. This approach involves providing genetic instructions for the body to produce a specific virus protein, essentially turning the body into a vaccine factory.
While COVID-19 mRNA vaccines were expedited through regulatory processes due to the global emergency, the new vaccines being developed in Africa are expected to follow a longer development timeline of three to seven years.
Dr. Amadou Sall, CEO at Institut Pasteur, emphasized the significance of this investment in establishing vaccine self-reliance in Africa. The institute, with a history of producing yellow fever vaccines since the 1930s, aims to leverage mRNA technology for diseases endemic to the continent, including Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.