South African biotechnology company Afrigen Biologics has used publicly available data on Moderna’s mRNA vaccine to produce a vaccine of its own at a Cape Town facility.
The vaccine could be tested in humans by the end of the year, Afrigen’s managing director told Reuters. The reproduction of a widely used vaccine without the vaccine developer’s assistance and approval is considered to be a world first, per the wire service.
“We haven’t copied Moderna, we’ve developed our own processes because Moderna didn’t give us any technology,” Petro Terblanche told Reuters. “We started with the Moderna sequence because that gives, in our view, the best starting material. But this is not Moderna’s vaccine, it is the Afrigen mRNA hub vaccine.”
Afrigen Biologics collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) to produce the vaccine using Moderna’s vaccine data, gaining information on the lipid nanoparticle that carries messenger RNA into cells and the mRNA sequence that instructs cells to produce the spike protein of the coronavirus in order to train the immune system to fight the virus in case of infection, Politico first reported on Wednesday.
The first doses of the vaccine have already been produced and the company is conducting analytical work on a trial run, with more trials expected in the future to prove the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, according to Politico.
This comes after the WHO last year announced that it was working with a South African consortium, including Afrigen, to establish a technology transfer hub with the goal of scaling up production and access to COVID vaccines by making the technology behind them available to companies around the world.
The WHO and other organizations have worked to close a vaccination gap between wealthier nations and developing ones. According to a dashboard from the WHO, the United Nations and the University of Oxford, nearly 68 percent of people have been vaccinated in high income countries compared with less than 12 percent in low income countries.
Last year, Pfizer, BioNtech and Moderna declined to share their mRNA vaccine technology following a WHO request, citing concerns with production and manufacturing.
But Moderna declared in October that it would not enforce its patent during the pandemic, and halted a dispute with the federal government over a patenting of the vaccine in December, The Washington Post reported, allowing for other vaccines to be created using its data.
Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at WHO, said in a July statement announcing the South African technology transfer hub that “inequitable manufacturing and distribution of vaccines is behind the wave of death, which is now sweeping across many low-and middle-income countries that have been starved of vaccine supply.”
“Building vaccine manufacturing capacity in South Africa is the first step in a broader effort to boost local production to address health emergencies and strengthen regional health security,” Swaminathan said at the time.