US government committed to decentralized mRNA vaccine manufacturing

US government committed to decentralised m-RNA vaccine manufacturing

Release date: 23 September 2022.

At the UN event,
• Assistant US HHS Secretary says that global health “cannot be just about charity”
• WHO chief scientist certain project can deliver vaccines for neglected diseases
• South Africa’s health minister urges the international community do more to share vaccine, testing, and treatment technology

The US government is “committed to” decentralised mRNA vaccine manufacturing, assistant US health and human services secretary Loyce Pace said today at an event promoting a World Health Organization (WHO) initiative to share mRNA vaccine technology with low and middle-income countries.

The mRNA Technology Transfer Hub, based in South African company Afrigen, will share mRNA vaccine technology with producers in Brazil, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Serbia, South Africa, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

The WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, told the event that the project can help to deliver “vaccines and biologics for diseases for which we don’t have good solutions” and that she is sure lower-income countries could no longer have to wait for “a trickle-down kind of effect” from research and development in high-income countries.

South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr. Joe Phaahla welcomed the progress that had been made to build global south manufacturing, but said it was not enough and “a lot more can be done in terms of the nations of the world sharing all these technologies”

The comments were made at an event at the Yale Club in New York during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) hosted by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Public Citizen, UNAIDS, Global Citizen, Medicines Patent Pool, Afrigen, and the Republic of South Africa’s Health Department.

Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, said:

“Our goal was to show it can be done, to build that foundation, and to create a momentum and a network and a capacity to develop vaccines for TB, for dengue, for malaria, for diseases which affect low and middle-income countries and not wait for a trickle-down kind of effect where someone, somewhere in a high-income country has to create a vaccine and then somehow it has to find its way down into the poor countries.

“That is the paradigm we are trying to change here. I think that to me I’m 100% sure that this will happen. And in a few years from now, we will start seeing vaccines and biologics for diseases for which we don’t have good solutions. And also for diseases where access currently is limited. And I’m thinking about cancer treatment and genetic disabilities.”

Loyce Pace, Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at US Department of Health and Human Services, said:

“This part of our agenda cannot be just about charity. Equity is not charity alone… We have to be sure to round out any donations or other support with issues or advances, like, voluntary tech transfer or capacity strengthening, or by – frankly – decentralising and distributing local and regional manufacturing. So, that’s something that the US is committed to doing. It’s something that we’re actively doing with the mRNA hub.

“I know we haven’t always been on the right side of things in the world but while I’m here in this position and while this administration is in place, we commit to ensuring that we’re going to see this through.”

Dr. Joe Phaahla, Minister of Health for the Republic of South Africa, said:

“We say that developing countries have the capacity, have the potential… We do have the people. We do have the institutions… We do have the human resources who, if given an opportunity to have access, they can actually be able to make sure that their nations are protected.

“We do welcome the progress which has been made internationally in terms of the opening up as a result of the WTO process… which makes it possible that we can be able to access some of the patents… But we say it’s not enough. We say a lot more can be done in terms of the nations of the world sharing all these technologies.”

Eksiri Pintaruchi, Director-General, Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Thailand, said:

“The pandemic has shown the international communities that developing countries must have the capacity to manufacture certain medicines and countermeasures both in normal times and in times of crisis. So, the pandemic has also reaffirmed the importance of sustaining global solidarities. That is why we need to work together.

“And we agree that especially through sharing support of technology transfer, know-how, and sustainable funding to further enhance epidemic and pandemic response capacity at all levels. And we welcome the WHO and partners’ initiatives on the mRNA vaccine technology transfer in South Africa and its plan to expand a network of spokes and low- and middle-income countries to enable the provisions of global public goods.”

Stephanie Seydoux, French Ambassador for Global Health, said:

“Regional actors and institutions need to be at the table and their capacities must be strengthened – and we fully support this approach and will make sure it is taken into account.

“The equity issue is a broad one… There’s a broader framework, there’s a broader setup to this and I believe that the discussions that are ongoing on the new pandemic instrument and pandemic preparedness are definitely going to be very important in this respect. And there are fora such as the WTO where these issues have to keep being addressed.

“The Covid crisis has shown the flaws in our system. We need to rebalance that and make sure that all women and men have equal access to health products and quality health care.”

Petro Terblanche, Managing Director of Afrigen, said:

“Unless we develop a pipeline of products, mRNA may become redundant as it as a platform for medical technology development … So, we are working and starting to work now with more and more groups to look at new disease targets.

“We have been approached by leading scientists in the HIV community…with clinical HIV candidates in development wanting to work with mRNA. So, we need to build the pipeline. We need to build a platform for vaccine innovation.

“I think that the scientists and scientific capability in South Africa were underestimated by most of the world… Technology is not a given privilege for the rich or for some countries and not for others. We need to really bring technology home to all of our countries.”

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said:

“How did the price of [HIV] antiretrovirals come down? It’s through pressure of this kind, [through] companies in the south reverse engineering the drugs… Then we had governments using their right under TRIPS to import generics. And then the Global Fund was created, and a market was created for these generics. Then the price came down by 99%.

“How can we now each time there is a pandemic have to wait for reverse engineering; have to go through this process again? So that’s why I keep saying that to fight and end AIDS, to fight other pandemics, we still must confront the rules that are rigged against ordinary people from poor countries. We still must fight.”



Further information on the WHO-backed mRNA Technology Transfer Hub:

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