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Alumnus & Institut Pasteur collaborate to build manufacturing plants for COVID-19 vaccines in Dakar

A third COVID-19 wave is currently hitting Senegal. The country observes higher cases of delta variants, characterized by its increased transmissibility speed. While the vaccination has reached 70% of the population in Europe, only 2% of the billions of people is vaccinated in Africa. African countries have not been able to compete with EU and US economies in the race to secure contracts and manufacturing capacities of pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, Africa has not received their vaccines yet.

Source: vaccin_covid_adobestock.jpeg

A majority of medicines used in Africa are imported (99%). Although the European Union committed to provide one billion euro to support the local production of vaccines and medicines, there are currently ten approved manufacturers. There is an urgent need to build the infrastructures, to support the training of local staff and the set-up of equipment and technologies to have additional manufacturing centers.

In Senegal, the Institut Pasteur has received financing support from European countries and institutions, as well as from the US government, to build a manufacturing plant with the hope to start the production of COVID-19 vaccine before the end of this year. This will be a huge challenge starting from scratch.

However, it’s not without relying on the know-how of Unizima (an affiliate of Univercells group), a company founded by Hugues Bultot, a Solvay Alumni member who studied management at Solvay in 1990. The Institut Pasteur will use the innovative technologies owned by Univercells group to supply one of the starting materials required to manufacture COVID-19 vaccine (i.e., viral vectors). Unizima will supervise the transfer of technologies to the Institut Pasteur of Dakar.

A last challenge and potential roadblock for Senegal is to make a deal with a patent owner or a vaccine manufacturer.

It is an outstanding initiative of Hugues to support the development of manufacturing lines in low-income countries and make vaccines available to African citizens. It is also a nice example of a successful collaboration between private organizations and public entities to support African countries.

This article raises several open questions: what can policymakers do to reduce as much as possible the inequality for vaccine supply between countries in case of a pandemic ? Should intellectual property rights on vaccines be temporarily suspended as suggested by India to speed up local manufacturing ? Should each country have its own local vaccine manufacturing lines to rapidly meet the needs of its population during a pandemic ?

What do you think ?

Kevin Missault - September 11, 2021


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