WHO tech-transfer hub uses Moderna data to make mRNA Covid vaccine

7 Feb 2022

Image: © littlewolf1989/Stock.adobe.com

The mRNA technology-transfer hub was set up in South Africa to help manufacturers in low-income countries create their own vaccines.

South African company Afrigen Biologics has created its own version of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine against Covid-19, with plans to go to clinical trials at the end of the year.

Afrigen is part of the mRNA technology-transfer hub, an initiative set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) last year to develop the vaccine manufacturing capacity in low- and middle-income countries.

Using publicly available information on the existing Moderna vaccine, Afrigen has been able to create its own version, hitting a new milestone for the technology hub. This is also the first mRNA vaccine that has been designed, developed and produced at laboratory scale in Africa, Reuters reported.

The WHO confirmed that the hub is currently scaling up and validating production at commercial scale. Clinical trials are expected in the fourth quarter of the year, while first approval could be on hold until 2024.

The Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) – which co-leads the hub initiative with WHO – announced a €39m grant for Afrigen, to help cover its work until 2026.

When the WHO first launched the mRNA tech-transfer hub, it asked vaccine producers Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech to help researchers in other countries make their own Covid-19 vaccines. However, the companies declined the request to share their knowledge.

The WHO said the current South African consortium will run the hub, which will serve all low- and middle-income countries. No additional mRNA technology transfer hubs are planned.

The Moderna vaccine was chosen by the WHO due to the amount of public information available compared to other options. Moderna vowed in 2020 not to enforce patents related to Covid-19 against those making vaccines designed to combat the pandemic.

“We haven’t copied Moderna, we’ve developed our own processes because Moderna didn’t give us any technology,” Afrigen managing director Petro Terblanche told Reuters. “We started with the Moderna sequence because that gives, in our view, the best starting material. But this is not Moderna’s vaccine, it is the Afrigen mRNA hub vaccine.”

Companies like Moderna and BioNTech have announced plans to build mRNA production facilities in Africa. The WHO said it welcomes all initiatives aimed at expanding biomedical manufacturing in Africa and other under-served regions.

“The mRNA hub in South Africa has more of a global approach. It is serving not only Africa but the entire world. To date, over 20 countries have requested access to the hub’s technology transfer,” the WHO said in a statement.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic