NantWorks LLC, South African-born biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, agreed to invest in a plant and manufacturing complex in the country’s Western Cape and aims to produce Covid-19 and cancer vaccines.
The technology transfer is expected to take place within the next three months and production of the injections for use in Africa is expected to begin in 2022, the company said in a statement Thursday.
NantWorks has entered into a collaboration agreement with the South African Government Scientific and Industrial Research Council, the South African Medical Research Council and the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation. Three local universities are also part of the pact.
Soon-Shiong, who has a net worth of $ 11 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, was born in the South African coastal city of Gqeberha. He made his fortune after inventing the cancer drug Abraxane in the US and has sold two firms for a total of $ 7.4 billion. Its assets include the Los Angeles Times newspaper and a portion of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.
“It has been a dream of mine, ever since I left the country as a young physician, to bring cutting-edge 21st century medical care to South Africa and allow the country to serve as a scientific hub for the continent. ”Said Soon-Shiong, founder and CEO of NantWorks.
The facility will be owned by NantAfrica, a newly created unit of NantWorks, with a projected initial spend of R3 billion ($ 203 million). While it won’t seek government money if it does eventually start exporting vaccines, it will need government help in the form of tax incentives and “a reduction in red tape,” Soon-Shiong said.
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.
“There is no reason why we cannot do 500 million doses a year,” Soon-Shiong said in an interview. “Subject to the raw material being available.”
The Universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal will help establish centers of excellence that will treat infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, as well as cancer. Another initiative will improve rapid genomic surveillance and response to viral mutations that occur in Africa, the company said.
NantAfrica wants to draw on South African medical expertise in treating diseases that are prevalent in the country, such as HIV, tuberculosis, human papillomavirus and cervical cancer, Soon-Shiong said.
“There are fantastic scientists, with deep knowledge about these diseases,” he said. “More than in the United States because they see these patients every day.”
“It is a game changer for our country,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at an online press conference. “Dr. Soon-Shiong will change the rules of the game.”
It joins other pharmaceutical initiatives in the country. Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. is manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines for Johnson & Johnson. The Biovac Institute in Cape Town will manufacture Covid-19 vaccines for Pfizer Inc. and the World Health Organization is establishing an mRNA vaccine center in Cape Town.
NantWorks and its affiliates are conducting a booster trial of the Covid-19 T-cell vaccine in healthcare workers in Cape Town. A second phase of testing of the Covid-19 T-cell vaccine will begin to evaluate the first “heterologous RNA + DNA T-cell vaccine,” the company said.
The vaccine targets the nucleocapsid protein in the core of the coronavirus, which is less prone to mutation.
“I think this is our way to stop this pandemic,” Soon-Shiong said. “This is our way to stop all these mutations.”
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