Cape Town - History was made on Wednesday when President Cyril Ramaphosa and South African-born biotech billionaire and NantWorks LLC founder Patrick Soon-Shiong launched Africa’s first state-of-the-art NantSA vaccine manufacturing campus in Brackengate, Cape Town.
In opening the campus, the president was also joined by the Western Cape Premier Allan Winde; Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande; Stellenbosch University (SU) vice-chancellor Wim de Villiers; and Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
The president and Soon-Shiong also launched the Coalition to Accelerate Africa’s Access to Advanced Healthcare (the AAAH Coalition) on Wednesday, which together with the NantSA campus aims to accelerate domestic production of pharmaceuticals, biologics and vaccines for patients across the African continent.
Ramaphosa said this was part of a far broader initiative to propel Africa into a new era of health science and unite biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, non-profit organisations and academia.
The facility was being converted into a space where next-generation vaccines – for a range of diseases including TB, HIV, Covid-19 and cancer – would be developed from scratch.
The launch followed the announcement in September last year by Soon-Shiong that NantWorks LLC signed a collaboration agreement with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) that would initiate the transfer of biologic manufacturing technology for Covid-19 and cancer vaccines – which Ramaphosa said was the main challenge – as well as next-generation cell-based immunotherapies.
Soon-Shiong, famous for inventing the cancer combating drug Abraxane, said the NantSA campus in Cape Town aimed to produce 1 billion doses of their Covid-19 vaccine by 2025 for the African continent – they hoped to finish manufacturing the first doses before the end of this year.
Before the launch, Ramaphosa joined Soon-Shiong at SU’s Biomedical Research Institute to view the cutting-edge facilities of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) where the billionaire donated biometric sequences that would assist in the mission to produce not only Covid-19 vaccines, but also a variety of other pharmaceuticals with the support of the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation.
Through this support, institutes for infectious disease and cancer centres would be established at UCT, Wits, SU and others to fulfil Soon-Shiong’s long-time goal to help bring greater health equity to the country of his birth.
CERI will be officially launched later this year and is envisioned to be the largest genomics facility in Africa.
“We have seen that if we want to safeguard the health of our people, we need to have the means, the technology and the resources to produce vaccines and treatments for all the diseases that afflict the people of our continent,” Ramaphosa said.
The president says this is why they have been working to establish new pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities to produce the Covid-19 and other vaccines.
“This NantSA facility will make a vital contribution to this mission, complementing the work already being done by companies like Aspen, Biovac and Afrigen here in South Africa and several other companies in other parts of the continent,” Ramaphosa said.
Based on his personal training and knowledge of what exists in the country, Soon-Shiong has said there is amazing scientific talent so if they can harness that talent and integrate that into global scale manufacturing, all in Africa will be able to access advanced healthcare right from the base of South Africa.
CERI founding director and SU professor Tulio de Olivieral said: “Stellenbosch University is excited about playing a leading role in this important and ground-breaking Covid-19 and cancer initiative.”
Winde has also welcomed the pharmaceutical investment, thanking Soon-Shiong for his pioneering contribution to the region.
“Our investment teams stand ready to assist you as you execute this amazing project so that we not only save lives but also create jobs, in our country and on our continent,” Winde said.