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Deputy Minister Buti Manamela: Opening remarks at the First Consultative Forum on the Covid MRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub

9 Dec 2021

Programme director;
Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla;
Director-General of Science and Innovation, Dr Phil Mjwara;
Esteemed panellists;
Our local and international partners;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of the Minister and myself, it is my honour and privilege to address this first consultative forum on the COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub.

As part of our contribution to the national and global fight against the novel coronavirus, in June this year we announced the establishment of a World Health Organisation (WHO) vaccine technology transfer hub.

As a country, we are greatly honoured that Cape Town has been chosen to host this hub.  This is testament to the quality of South Africa's scientific expertise and infrastructure, and a vote of confidence in our country's capability for vaccine sufficiency.

As you may be aware, this is both the first facility of its kind and the first to be based on the African continent.  Its purpose is to increase access to mRNA vaccines in low and middle-income countries, especially in Africa, thus ensuring a sustainable vaccine supply for the current and future pandemics, by establishing local manufacturing capacity using a technology transfer model.

As part of its function, the South African hub will be involved in end-to-end development of mRNA-based vaccines.  It will serve as an mRNA vaccine training facility where technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development is performed.  A training centre will be established, as well as a current good manufacturing practice (cGMP) clinical trial production facility to support vaccine development.

Commercial manufacture of an mRNA vaccine will be key, both to meeting demand and to ensuring the sustainability of the technology transfer.  To this end, full use will be made of South African technical expertise in genomics, immunology, vaccine manufacturing and clinical trials, thus feeding the pipeline for local manufacturing.

Manufacturers from low and middle-income countries will be able to receive training at the hub, as well as licences to the technology used by the hub.  The programme will transfer sufficient know-how to enable manufacturers in these countries to successfully manufacture vaccines at scale, thereby supporting further clinical development, national and regional market authorisations with WHO prequalification, and sustainable supply to meet local and regional vaccine demand.

The initial mRNA vaccine is being modelled on open-source technology and will be replicated and improved on the basis of research that is ongoing among the various partners in South Africa.  As a country, we are set to invest approximately 100 million euros in vaccine development and manufacturing over the next five years.

It is important to provide assurance that the hub will in no way be involved in misuse of intellectual property (IP).  Not only is the vaccine candidate being modelled on open-source technology, but the Medicines Patent Pool, which is responsible for the IP and licensing elements of the project, will ensure that patents are not infringed upon.

The hub will utilise the results of ongoing research by the national and international partners to ensure an improved vaccine that is safe and effective against both current and future strains of COVID-19. 

It should be noted here that mRNA vaccine technology is also promising for use against other diseases, such as TB, malaria and possibly HIV.  Hence, the facility will significantly boost South Africa's drive to build its innovation capacity and develop a pipeline of home-grown products, including an mRNA-based vaccine for malaria.

Ladies and gentlemen, I also think it is important to emphasise that this facility is based on an inclusive partnership model.  The partners include the WHO, the Medicines Patent Pool, Afrigen Biologics, the Biovac Institute, a network of universities and institutes coordinated by the South African Medical Research Council, and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Our long-term vison is for a multilateral technology transfer initiative aimed at improving health security in low and middle-income countries through sustainable regional production of essential health biologicals.

As part of today's forum, we will be hosting a panel discussion featuring an exciting line-up of speakers drawn from the scientific community, our local and international partners, and civil society.

Through this discussion, we also hope to demonstrate South Africa's capability for vaccine sufficiency, and to discuss the progress made since the establishment of the hub was first announced in June.

In conclusion, we have no doubt that his facility will be of considerable benefit to our country, the continent and low and middle-income countries globally, and make a significant contribution to the development of essential skills and technologies in the places where they are needed most.

I wish you fruitful deliberations, and look forward to the outcome of your discussion.

Thank you.