U.S. Billionaire Plans S. Africa Covid, Cancer Vaccine Plant
(Bloomberg) -- South African-born biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong’s NantWorks LLC has agreed to invest in a manufacturing plant and complex in the country’s Western Cape and aims to produce Covid-19 and cancer vaccines.
Technology transfer is expected to take place within the next three months and production of the shots for use across Africa is expected to start in 2022, the company said in a statement on Thursday.
NantWorks has signed a collaboration agreement with the South African government’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the South African Medical Research Council and the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation. Three local universities are also party to the agreement.
Soon-Shiong, who has a net worth of $11 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, was born in the South African coastal town of Gqeberha. He made his fortune after inventing cancer drug Abraxane in the U.S and has sold two firms for a combined $7.4 billion. His assets include the Los Angeles Times newspaper and a share of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.
“It has been a dream of mine, since I left the country as a young physician, to bring state-of-the-art, 21st century medical care to South Africa and to enable the country to serve as a scientific hub for the continent,” said Soon-Shiong, who is founder and chief executive officer of NantWorks.
The company will build manufacturing facilities and a biologics manufacturing campus. Technology, know-how and materials for DNA, RNA, adjuvant vaccine platforms and cell therapy will be transferred to South Africa.
The universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal will help set up centers of excellence that will treat infectious diseases including HIV and tuberculosis as well as cancers. Another initiative will enhance rapid genomic surveillance of and response to viral mutations occurring in Africa, the company said.
“It is a game changer for our country,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, said in an online press conference.
It adds to other pharmaceutical initiatives in the country. Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. is making Covid-19 vaccines for Johnson & Johnson. Cape Town’s Biovac Institute will make Covid-19 vaccines for Pfizer Inc. and the World Health Organization is setting up a mRNA vaccine hub in Cape Town.
NantWorks and its affiliates are conducting a Covid-19 T cell vaccine booster trial in healthcare workers in Cape Town. A second Phase Covid-19 T cell vaccine trial will be initiated to evaluate the first “heterologous RNA + DNA T cell vaccine,” the company said.
The vaccine targets the nucleocapsid protein at the core of the coronavirus, which is less prone to mutation.
“It is my belief that this is our path to stopping this pandemic,” Soon-Shiong said. “This is our path to stopping all these mutations.”
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