From Africa to Australia and beyond, BioNTech's global mRNA ambitions take flight

In the wake of its breakout COVID-19 success with Pfizer, BioNTech’s globetrotting mRNA ambitions are taking shape. The company’s latest move? A strategic partnership in the Land Down Under.

Friday, the German biotech unveiled a deal with the Australian state of Victoria to prop up a new mRNA research and innovation center to bolster investigation of new meds “from discovery to delivery.” BioNTech will also throw in one of its "BioNTainer" mobile manufacturing facilities in Victoria’s capital of Melbourne for end-to-end clinical production of mRNA products and candidates, the company said in a release.

Housed in shipping containers, BioNTainer modular factories are kitted out to produce vaccines from start to finish. Beyond Australia, the company recently advanced plans to kick off a BioNTainer-focused mRNA vaccine manufacturing initiative in Africa.

But that’s not all: Looking ahead, BioNTech says it plans to further beef up in Australian clinical development, plus it’ll weigh whether to trial some of its clinical cancer prospects there, too. Those contenders could include the company’s CAR-T cell therapy BNT211, plus two mid-stage candidates.

The alliance aims to home in on potential mRNA-based vaccines and therapies, with the goal to usher encouraging academic research into clinical development. Promising candidates will be buoyed up on the production side by the company’s BioNTainer setup in Melbourne.

Earlier this summer, meanwhile, BioNTech started to deliver on its promise to bring an end-to-end mRNA vaccine manufacturing network to the African continent.

In June, CEO Uğur Şahin, presidents from three African nations, dignitaries from Europe and others took part in a lavish ceremony to break ground on a site in Kigali, Rwanda, where the production effort is set to launch.

BioNTech also plans to erect similar BioNTainer setups in Senegal and South Africa. It aims to ship the first of two BioNTainers bound for Rwanda by the end of the year. Those plants are set to employ a staff of 100 by 2024.  

In a separate deal, Pfizer and BioNTech have folded South Africa’s Biovac into their manufacturing network, and the company recently made its first batch of mRNA shot Comirnaty.

Biovac finished the first doses from its facility in Cape Town early last month, Bloomberg first reported. Subsequent Biovac doses are set to be sold commercially starting in 2023.

Elsewhere, BioNTech last year disclosed plans to set up shop in Asia, planting the flag for its first regional hub in Singapore. Alongside plans for a headquarters, BioNTech also plans to set up fully integrated mRNA manufacturing there.