Gates Foundation spends $40M to boost mRNA vaccine production in Africa and beyond

Following similar initiatives to bolster mRNA vaccine production and access in Africa, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is providing new funding to a clutch of drugmakers.

In total, the Gates Foundation is spreading $40 million between a Belgian biotech and a pair of African vaccine manufacturers as well as other, yet-to-be-named immunization production specialists.

Belgian mRNA specialist Quantoom Biosciences, which uncloaked during the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2021, is set to receive $20 million to boost access to its low-cost mRNA research and manufacturing platform, Nfinity.

The company’s production platform comprises three manufacturing technologies: Nplify for DNA production, Ntensify for RNA production and Ncapsulate for production of lipid nanoparticles.

Quantoom’s modular approach addresses common bottlenecks in current mRNA research and manufacturing technologies, according to a release from the Gates Foundation. In addition, the platform could “significantly” reduce the need for highly skilled specialists, the foundation said.

Elsewhere on the funding front, the Gates Foundation is furnishing the Institut Pasteur de Dakar (IPD) and Biovac with $5 million each to get their hands on Quantoom’s tech and be able to use it to develop “locally relevant” vaccines.

IPD is based in Senegal, while Biovac—a COVID-19 vaccine production partner of Pfizer and BioNTech—runs its operations from South Africa.

The last $10 million of the Gates Foundations’ funding tranche will be doled out to other low- and middle-income country (LMIC) vaccine manufacturers that have yet to be named.

The Africa and LMIC investments come after the Gates Foundation previously pumped $55 million into mRNA manufacturing technology writ large.

Following the success of mRNA vaccines in the West during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies like Moderna and BioNTech moved swiftly to establish separate production networks in Africa. Reports surfaced in September that BioNTech was scaling back its mRNA manufacturing plans in Africa, but the company told BioProcess International that in fact the opposite was true, adding that it’s “broadened” its plans on the continent.

Separately, the World Health Organization in April officially cut the ribbon on an mRNA vaccine hub in Cape Town, South Africa. That facility, which emerged with a focus on COVID-19 vaccines, is being piloted by local biotech Afrigen Biologics, which has been tapped to leverage the publicly available sequence of Moderna’s COVID shot to make its own version of the prophylactic at lab scale.