BioNTech kicks off ambitious vaccine manufacturing initiative in Africa

BioNTech has begun to deliver on its promise to bring an end-to-end mRNA vaccine manufacturing network to Africa—and is doing it up right.

In a lavish ceremony hosted by BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin and including presidents of three African nations, dignitaries from Europe and World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the company broke ground on a site in Kigali, Rwanda, from where it will launch the ambitious effort.

The plans call for similar facilities to be set up in Senegal and South Africa, where the company will send its modular factories housed in shipping containers. Kitted out to produce vaccines from start to finish, the company has dubbed the units BioNTainers.

By the end of this year, the company said it will ship the first of two BioNTainers bound for the Rwanda site, which will employ a staff of 100 by 2024. BioNTech is accepting applications for 20 roles.

“The goal we pursue together with governments and regulatory authorities is to produce vaccines for Africa here with highly skilled professionals from Africa,” Sahin said in a statement.

Meanwhile, with demand for COVID-19 vaccines plummeting around the world, BioNTech emphasized its efforts in developing a malaria vaccine on Thursday. The company’s candidates will enter human trials later this year.

BioNTech rolled out the BioNTainers idea just four months ago. The units include one drug substance and one formulation module, taking up 800 square meters. Each module is built from six standard-size shipping containers, making a total of 12 containers for the full BioNTainer setup.

Each unit will have the ability to produce 50 million vaccine doses annually. In addition to COVID-19 and malaria vaccines, the BioNTainers could also manufacture tuberculosis and HIV vaccines that the company is developing.

The company has said that production should begin within a year of delivery of the BioNTainers.

BioNTech revealed the African initiative shortly after medical journal BMJ accused the kENUP Foundaton—a public benefit foundation representing BioNTech—of undermining a WHO push to help African companies manufacture COVID-19 vaccines.