NantWorks founder Soon-Shiong plans vaccine plant in South Africa, pledges $6.5M to train workers

Biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong is planning to build a new vaccine manufacturing plant in South Africa to help meet a desperate need to increase the region’s production capacity.

Along with South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa, Soon-Shiong kicked off the initiative at the site of a former warehouse near Cape Town where the new facility will be built. Soon-Shiong was born in South Africa and founded the Los Angeles-based NantWorks in 2007.

The biotech entrepreneur pledged $6.5 million in scholarships to train workers at the facility. He'll also donate two large DNA sequencers. At the ceremony, officials launched a coalition aimed at producing 1 billion COVID vaccines by 2025.

According to the World Health Organization, only about 7% of people in Africa are fully vaccinated.

“We need more vaccine doses, we need better therapeutics, and we need to protect the people of our continent against future variants and future pandemics,” Ramaphosa said. “That is why we have been working to establish new pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities to produce the COVID-19 (vaccine) and other vaccines.”

Last year, Pfizer and BioNTech said they would produce their co-developed vaccine in South Africa with help from local producer Biovac. That deal followed Johnson & Johnson’s partnership with Aspen Pharmacare to manufacture its COVID shot in a facility in Port Elizabeth. 

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Then in October, Moderna said it had begun searching for sites in Africa where it plans to build a $500 million mRNA manufacturing facility that will be able to produce hundreds of millions of vaccine doses a year in anticipation of future demand.