Rwanda plans to produce Covid-19 vaccines next year after Germany-based pharmaceutical BioNTech launched the construction of the facility to house its two modular container prototypes in the country on Thursday.
The BioNTainers are expected to produce 50 million doses per year using the mRNA technology used for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The containers will be delivered to Rwanda by the end of the year, with manufacturing expected to commence 12 to 18 months after installation.
During the groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday at the Kigali Special Economic Zone, Rwanda President Paul Kagame said the plant would be a significant milestone in addressing vaccine inequality.
“Rwanda intends to build on this investment by putting in place conditions to attract other manufacturers and innovators. Rwanda fully supports BioNTech’s commitment to power this factory with green energy, and we will work together to achieve that,” President Kagame said.
Figures by the World Health Organisation (WHO) released in June show that only two African countries (Mauritius and Seychelles) have fully vaccinated 70 percent of their total population. Rwanda expects to achieve this target by the end of the month.
BioNTech says one of the containers will produce the mRNA vaccines while the other will make formulated bulk drug products. There are plans to use the same facility to manufacture malaria and tuberculosis vaccines.
The modular systems consist of 12 shipping containers housing the same manufacturing process and equipment used in its factory.
The Kigali plant is the first mRNA technology manufacturing hub with similar facilities to be set up in Senegal and South Africa.
Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and Tunisia will receive technology to produce mRNA vaccines.
“We have reached the next milestone with the construction start of the first African mRNA manufacturing facility based on our BioNTainers – just four months after we introduced the BioNTainer concept in February,” Prof Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, said.
He added that the factory would be the first in an African network to provide sustainable production capacity for mRNA pharmaceuticals.
“The goal we pursue together with governments and regulatory authorities is to produce vaccines for Africa here with highly skilled professionals from Africa,” he said.
BioNTech says it will work with staff from its sites in Germany to accelerate the training of about 100 personnel who will be running the production and all associated laboratory and quality assurance tasks on site. Some 20 local personnel will also undergo training.
According to WHO, Africa imports approximately 99 percent of vaccines administered. Developing the new vaccine manufacturing facilities will significantly reduce the continent’s import dependence.
Last year, the WHO established its global mRNA technology transfer hub to address supply shortages and boost vaccination rates in developing countries.