Gates Gives $40m Boost to Africa’s mRNA Vaccine Development
Lab technicians at South African at vaccine manufacturer Afrigen.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) announced on Monday that it would invest $40 million to advance the development of mRNA innovation and production in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to help them produce low-cost and high-quality vaccines at large scale.

In an address to the more than 1,400 scientists, policymakers, and donors attending the foundation’s Grand Challenges annual meeting in Senegal, BMGF co-chair Bill Gates, called for the world to spend at least $3 billion more every year on global health research and development (R&D) to close the critical gaps in funding for neglected diseases.

“New health technologies have the potential to save millions of lives, but R&D funding is going in the wrong direction,” Gates told delegates. “Donors need to step up their commitments to ensure health innovations reach other who need them more quickly, so more lives can be saved”. 

Although overall health R&D funding is growing, only about 2% is directed at diseases that affect the world’s poorest population. 

The Gates Foundation acknowledges the potentially critical role of mRNA technology in developing vaccines against infectious diseases commonly found in the global south, including tuberculosis and  malaria. 

The new grant of $40 million is to improve the access of African research institutes with vaccine manufacturing experiences to access to Quantoom Biosciences’ affordable mRNA research and manufacturing platform. 

Quantoom Biosciences will get $20 million to facilitate access to the next-generation mRNA health tools, while the Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal and South Africa’s Biovac, will each receive $5 million to improve their capacity to develop vaccines to fight local diseases. A further $10 million will be allocated to other LMIC vaccine developers that have yet to be identified. 

“Putting innovative mRNA technology in the hands of researchers and manufacturers in Africa and around the world will help ensure more people benefit from next-generation vaccines,” said Dr Muhammad Ali Pate, Nigeria’s Minister of health and social welfare and a global expert on vaccines. 

“This collaboration is an encouraging step that will increase access to critical health technologies and help African countries develop vaccines that meet the needs of their people.”

The cost of producing a vaccine with Quantoom’s platform could drop to nearly half the cost of vaccines produced with traditional mRNA methods. 

“Innovation can be transformative, but only if it reaches the people who need it most,” said Morena Makhoana, CEO of Biovac

“This collaboration will help close critical gaps in access to promising mRNA vaccines against diseases that disproportionately affect the world’s poorest. It will also assist us in our mission to establish end-to-end vaccine manufacturing capability at scale in Africa for global supply”.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa was sidelined in the rush for vaccines. In reaction, the African Union adopted a New Public Health Order in September 2022 which sets a bold target of meeting up to 60% of the continent’s vaccine demand through regional manufacturing by 2040. At present, the continent only produces 1% of vaccines used in Africa.

Image Credits: Rodger Bosch/ MPP & WHO.

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