Biovac collaborates to make new Covid vaccine

Deputy President David Mabuza and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande visited the Biovac plant in Cape Town earlier this month.

The Pinelands-based vaccine manufacturer, Biovac, is collaborating with American immunotherapy company, ImmunityBio, to manufacture a second-generation Covid-19 vaccine.

It is hoped the hAd5 T-cell SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will offer greater protection against the virus and its emerging variants.

Biovac was started in 2003 as public-private partnership to establish local vaccine manufacturing capability.

The bio-pharmaceutical company’s chief executive, Morena Makhoana, said: “Biovac is the only facility like this in South Africa, and we need to be proud of this. South Africa does not have a large biotechnology industry, and, as you can see from the pandemic, we do need to have such capability in the country in order to respond to our local infectious diseases.”

Mr Makhoana said the key element to the relationship with ImmunityBio was the “need to build active pharmaceutical ingredient facilities in South Africa”.

The new candidate vaccine is undergoing clinical trials in South Africa and America.

“The product is undergoing phase one of clinical trials,” Mr Makhoana said. “It will then be followed by phase two and three clinical trials which will test immunogenicity and efficacy. The clinical trials for ImmunityBio vaccines will be conducted in Khayelitsha by the University of Cape Town.”

Biovac staff are also being trained on how to handle viral vaccines through a partnership with Wits University’s Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit.

ImmunityBio chairman Patrick Soon-Shiong said: “In addition to working with local researchers in clinical development, I am equally pleased to commence work with Biovac, which is the only specialist vaccine company in South Africa and that has proven that vaccines can be produced in Africa at a high standard as demonstrated by their prior collaborations on paediatric vaccines with global multinational vaccine companies.”

Mr Soon-Shiong said the partnership gave one confidence that South African manufacturing capability was at an equally high standard to its global counterparts and that it had the potential to respond better to future pandemics.