WHO has Hired an African startup to Crack Moderna Vaccine Recipe


The World Health Organization has hired Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, as part of a $100 million plan to figure out how to make an mRNA vaccine against COVID that is as close as possible to the version produced by Moderna.

Until recently, Afrigen specialized in developing veterinary vaccines using fairly traditional methods. Now, says Afrigen’s managing director, Petro Treblanche, the company’s labs are a hive of research into the cutting-edge technology behind mRNA vaccines.

“You will see scientists in white coats and some with full personal protective equipment [suits] operating a bioreactor to make the actual DNA,” says Treblanche. “You will see microbiology clean rooms where testing is taking place. You will see stability chambers where some of the products are put in to understand how stable they are in different environments of humidity and temperature.”

Once Afrigen has sorted out all the complicated steps to make Moderna’s shot on an industrial scale, WHO and other partners plan to pay Afrigen to become a teaching center.

“We call it a ‘technology transfer hub,’ ” says Martin Friede, the WHO official in charge of this effort. “Manufacturers from around the world will be invited to come and learn the entire process. So this will accelerate the availability of the technology, not to one manufacturer but to many manufacturers.”

Specifically manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries. Friede says the pandemic has shown they’re sorely needed.

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