Vaccine manufacturing in Africa and the power of partnerships

Can you tell us why and how Biovac was founded?

Biovac is a public-private partnership, established to revive the development and manufacture of vaccines and biologicals in South Africa.

Biovac was formed to fill the gap that exists in the local manufacture of human vaccines. We are the only vaccine manufacturer in South Africa and one of only four on the African continent. Normal pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity is abundant in South Africa and on the continent; however, vaccine capacity is scarce. Local vaccine manufacturing is important in order to reduce the risk of supply—vaccines are quite vulnerable—as well as to be able to deal with vaccine-preventable outbreaks/endemics.

How did Biovac get to where it is now, and what are the company’s plans for the future?

We inherited an old government facility in Cape Town in 2003 that we have completely revamped over the years. We built new modern infrastructure, allowing us to attractkey technology transfer partnerships of modern vaccines. We partnered withbig multinational organisations such as Sanofi and Pfizer as well assmaller companies in Cuba, Thailand and Indonesia. This model enabled Biovac to attract modern technologies to South Africa and to learn from global industry leaders. In addition, Biovac’s development of its own vaccine technology against haemophilus influenza b disease (Hib), which it has out-licensed to large manufacturers globally, is another achievement of which we are immensely proud.

With regard to the foreseeable future, we are in discussions with global funders with whom we are hoping to develop a novel vaccine that would plug a gap in infectious diseases.We are also looking to expand beyond vaccines into other sterile manufactured products.

Why is the development of vaccines so crucial in today’s world?

Vaccines form the cornerstone of any public health program in any country in the world. This is because a fundamental provision and acceptance of governments’ healthcare programs is that prevention is better than treatment, hence the investment in vaccines which aim to prevent rather than treat diseases. It is only through the development of vaccinesthat diseases such as smallpox have been eradicated and the likes of poliomyelitis is on the verge of elimination.

Why are vaccines so relevant to Africa in particular? What is Biovac doing to encourage intra-African collaboration in terms of local development of vaccines?

Africa is most vulnerable to outbreaks, as evidenced by the flu pandemic of 2009 and the recent Ebola outbreak. Without African vaccine manufacturing capacity, Africa will never be able to respond to its own vaccine-preventable diseases and will remain vulnerable.In addition to manufacture, local development of vaccines is critical if we are to attain the aims of tackling our own regions’ diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

Product development continues to happen either in more resourced areas of the world, such as western countries, or in countries with historically large manufacturing bases such as Asia. Nevertheless, it is evident that Africa consumes a large part of the world’s volume of vaccines but contributes little volume in terms of development or production. We view the world as a global village where north-south and south-south partnerships are equally as important as intra-African collaborations. A lot more effort is required with regard to intra-African collaborations if Africa is to take its rightful place in the global village.

Through Biovac’s ability to forge partnerships across the value chain, the company has the potential to positively impact the lives of people throughout Africa as well as in the developing world.The African vaccine market is still donor-dependent and, therefore, Biovac will need to respond not only to South African vaccine-preventable diseases but to global vaccine needs, for which the company will need to expand its technology platform and offerings.

In 2015, Biovac entered into partnership with Pfizer to produce Prevenar 13. To what extent do you view public-private partnerships and product development partnerships as ideal models for accelerating local vaccine production?

We have a strong public-private partnership with the South African Government in supplying paediatric vaccines. We also have robust technology-transfer partnerships with our global multinational partners (Sanofi and Pfizer) and we also work very closely with supranational organisations (World Health Organisation) and NGOs/philanthropic organisations (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). The key to partnerships is to identify a mutually-beneficial partnership. Without this understanding, one partner will either be left disempowered or the project will take much longer to achieve the desired results.

Partnerships can only succeed if other parameters are in place, such as managing and balancing the immediate micro-environment, access to capital, good modern infrastructure and having the right workforce. Another critical factor is the management of the macro-environment, which includes the regulatory framework, changing technology landscape and managing expectations from various stakeholders.

About Biovac Institute

Biovac was established in 2003 as a Public Private Partnership between the South African Government and the Biovac Consortium. Its vision is to be a Centre of Excellence for the development and manufacture of affordable quality vaccines and biologicals. Biovac is the only vaccine manufacturer in sub-Saharan Africa and to date, has invested over R500 million in its infrastructure (upstream and downstream processing, formulation, filling, inspection, labelling and packaging), quality control laboratories and warehouses and significant cold storage capacity. Establishing strategic partnerships is at the heart of Biovac’s success. They are open to collaborations with regional and international organisations on vaccine development projects which are relevant to Africa and other developing countries.