BioNTech selects Rwanda, Senegal for potential malaria and tuberculosis mRNA vaccine manufacturing

BioNTech's headquarters
Supply from two sites would provide “end-to-end vaccine supply solutions on the African continent,” BioNTech said. (BioNTech)

BioNTech hopes it can follow up its global COVID-19 success with the world’s first mRNA vaccines against malaria and tuberculosis. While still under development, the German biotech is already eyeing two African countries to scale up production for the potential shots. 

BioNTech, in its bid to become a “global immunotherapy powerhouse,” announced that it’s looking to build mRNA manufacturing sites in Rwanda and Senegal to support future production of the two vaccine hopefuls, the company said Friday. 

The sites would provide “end-to-end vaccine supply solutions on the African continent.” Africa’s vaccine supply chain has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, since low- to middle-income countries have had to wait for their first shipments of vaccines behind richer countries, which snapped up initial supplies. 

Malaria is an acute problem for Africa. The continent experienced a disproportionately high rate of deaths due to the mosquito-borne illness in 2019, accounting for 94% of all reported cases and deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

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BioNTech had previously expressed interest in taking its manufacturing to Africa when it first announced its intentions to develop a malaria vaccine in late July. 

Friday, the biotech said it affirmed those plans in a meeting with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Senegal’s President Macky Sall and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. 

The company has already started evaluating the manufacturing capabilities in each country, BioNTech said. The decision to narrow its search to Senegal and Rwanda came after guidance from the African Union, the Africa CDC and the African Medical Agency, the union’s drug regulator still under formation. 

The locations of the sites within each country, which have yet to be decided, will eventually co-locate with the WHO’s upcoming vaccine hubs, sites the organization has used against the coronavirus and influenza to transfer manufacturing know-how. 

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Developing an mRNA shot against malaria and tuberculosis won’t be an easy feat. While the global health community has set a 2030 deadline to squash those diseases, as well as HIV/AIDS, a lack of funding has hampered vaccine development, according to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation research

For BioNTech, the company hopes to push its malaria hopeful into human testing by the end of next year. In tuberculosis, it started preclinical development for “multiple product candidates” against that disease as well as HIV after launching those programs in 2019, according to BioNTech’s second-quarter earnings presentation

The company's Pfizer-partnered COVID-19 vaccine has given it a hefty financial boost. BioNTech expects to rake in €15.9 billion ($18.7 billion) in Comirnaty sales during 2021 alone, likely launching the company among the world’s top 20 drugmakers by revenue this year.