The BMJ: BioNTech Consultancy Sought to Undermine WHO Efforts to Create African mRNA Vaccine Tech Hub

A Maltese-based foundation representing BioNTech, the German company that co-produced with Pfizer a highly successful mRNA COVID vaccine, has been accused of seeking to undermine the World Health Organization’s new initiative to promote an open-source African-based COVID vaccine manufacturing hub – while proposing to ship European-fitted mRNA vaccine facilities to Africa in sea containers as an alternative, according to an investigation published by The BMJ.

The kENUP Foundation, a consultancy hired by BioNTech, reportedly advocated against the new WHO-sponsored Technology Transfer Hub in Cape Town, South Africa, which aims to train African researchers and entrepreneurs im making patent-free versions of mRNA vaccines. kENUP argued that the venture is unlikely to be successful and will infringe on patents, documents obtained by The BMJ suggest.

kENUP sought to advance an alternative proposal to ship fully-equipped mRNA factories housed in sea containers from Europe to Africa, and initially staffed with BioNTech workers.  Along with that, it proposed a new regulatory pathway to approve the vaccines made in such offshore factories. The initiative was described as both paternalistic and unworkable by experts interviewed by The BMJ.

The BMJ investigation reveals details of the proposal from kENUP and BioNTech and their criticism of the WHO venture.

The kENUP Foundation did not directly address the allegations or respond to The BMJ’s questions about the affair.  BioNTech said in a statement that its plans to establish mRNA based vaccine manufacturing on the African continent “will be done in close alignment with the WHO, the African Union, and the African CDC.” Pfizer has, meanwhile, announced preliminary agreements to construct vaccine manufacturing facilities on African soil, in Rwanda and Senegal. Asked by Health Policy Watch to comment on the kENUP venture, pharma observers in Switzerland said that the kENUP initiative was perceived an industry outlier. On Friday, WHO’s Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is set to visit the Cape Town-based facilities of the new Technology Transfer Hub, including Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines, which may have now replicated the Moderna mRNA COVID vaccine.  The BMJ

Image Credits: Afrigen .

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