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South African company produces COVID vaccine using Moderna data

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South African biotech company Afrigen Biologics has used publicly available data on Moderna’s mRNA vaccine to produce its own vaccine at a facility in Cape Town.

The vaccine could be tested in humans by the end of the year, Afrigen’s chief executive told Reuters. The reproduction of a widely used vaccine without the assistance and approval of the vaccine developer is considered a world first, according to the press service.

“We did not copy Moderna, we developed our own processes because Moderna did not provide us with any technology,” Petro Terblanche told Reuters. “We started with the Moderna sequence because it gives, in our opinion, the best starting material. But it’s not Moderna’s vaccine, it’s Afrigen’s mRNA hub vaccine.”

Afrigen Biologics collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) to produce the vaccine using vaccine data from Moderna, obtaining information on the lipid nanoparticle that carries messenger RNA into cells and the mRNA sequence that directs cells to produce the coronavirus spike protein to train the immune system to fight off the virus if infected, Politico first reported Wednesday.

The first doses of the vaccine have already been produced and the company is conducting analytical work on a trial, with more trials expected in the future to prove the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, according to Politico.

It comes after the WHO announced last year that it was working with a South African consortium, including Afrigen, to establish a technology transfer center with the aim of increasing production and access to COVID vaccines. by making the underlying technology available to businesses around the world. world.

The WHO and other organizations have worked to close an immunization gap between wealthy and developing countries. Nearly 68% of people have been vaccinated in high-income countries, compared to less than 12% in low-income countries, according to a WHO, United Nations and Oxford University dashboard.

Last year, Pfizer, BioNtech and Moderna declined to share their mRNA vaccine technology following a request from the WHO, citing production and manufacturing concerns.

But Moderna said in October that it would not enforce its patent during the pandemic and ended a dispute with the federal government over patenting the vaccine in December, the Washington Post reported, allowing other vaccines to be created. using his data.

Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the WHO, said in a July statement announcing the South African technology transfer center that “inequitable manufacturing and distribution of vaccines are driving the wave of deaths, which is now sweeping through many low- and middle-income countries that have been starved of vaccine supplies.”

“Building vaccine manufacturing capacity in South Africa is the first step in a broader effort to boost local production to address health emergencies and strengthen regional health security,” Swaminathan said at the time. .