Two world-class biotech companies – the South African-based Afrigen Biologics and the Belgian Univercells Group – have teamed up to develop the first mRNA African-owned COVID-19 vaccine. The main advantage of this vaccine is that it will be cheaper to produce than imported vaccines and easier to store and distribute in rural and remote locations.

This collaboration agreement was announced on 21 June 2022, exactly one year since the establishment of the mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub of the World Health Organization (WHO). The objective of the technology transfer hub is to build capacity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to produce mRNA vaccines by providing interested manufacturers from LMICs training and necessary licences to the technology.  The role of Afrigen in this technology hub, which is hosted at its sites in Cape Town, is to assist in mRNA vaccines production at more than 15 designated manufacturing sites in LMICs globally.

Afrigen’s collaboration with Univercells will focus on using their intellectual property as well as new intellectual property in order to develop this very first African-owned mRNA COVID-19 vaccine and make it accessible to LMICs. Afrigen and Univercells will be supported by another Belgian company, eTheRNA, a specialist in mRNA.

This collaboration is a tremendous milestone towards ensuring better access to life-saving vaccines for South Africa, and African countries in general. It will indeed reduce Africa’s almost total reliance on imported vaccine. At present, 99% of the shots needed in Africa are indeed imported vaccine which are expensive and require stringent storage conditions.

The collaboration agreement also marks an important step for Wallonia-based Univercells, which aims to become a key partner in building Africa's capacity in vaccine development and manufacturing.

For more information about the Afrigen/Univercells collaboration agreement: Univercells | New agreement paves way for development of first African-owned COVID-19 vaccine