On Tuesday 26th of October 2021, and on the margins of the second African Union European Union Ministerial Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, which had in attendance about five hundred delegates including at least sixty-eight foreign affairs ministers of African and European nations, a side event took place which saw the Republic of Rwanda and the Republic of Senegal sign a Memorandum of Understanding with BioNTech (headquartered in Germany) and the European Investment Bank (headquartered in Luxembourg).
The meeting occurred upon the invitation of the kENUP Foundation and was a follow up after the parties involved signed a joint communique at a previous meeting held in Berlin, Germany on August 27, 2021.
Several months ago (Friday, August 27, 2021) during the G20 Compact with Africa meeting in Germany hosted by German Chancellor Ms Angela Merkel, a joint communique was issued by all parties present at a specific meeting initiated by the Malta-based kENUP Foundation which went thus, “BioNTech evaluates mRNA vaccine manufacturing solutions in Rwanda and Senegal to improve long-term vaccine supply from Africa for Africa. On August 27, 2021, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Macky Sall of Senegal, and President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission met Ugur Sahin, CEO and Co-Founder of BioNTech in Berlin at the Barenboim-Said-Akademie to discuss the development of sustainable vaccine production for Africa.”
That meeting, which was convened by the kENUP Foundation in cooperation with BioNTech, took place at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin. Also in attendance were Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa Regional Director; and Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank (EIB).
A day after the meeting, Saturday, August 28, 2021, a tweet posted via President Paul Kagame’s Twitter handle stated that “Rwanda and Senegal’s partnership with BioNTech marks a turning point in vaccine equity. With the support of President Ursula von der Leyen, President Werner Hoyer of the EIB and others, we look forward to making mRNA end to end vaccine manufacturing in Africa a reality.”
BioNTech (one of the developers of the Pfizer Covid vaccine) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rwandan Government and the Institut Pasteur de Dakar (Senegal). And the construction of the first mRNA manufacturing facility in Africa is planned to be initiated in mid-2022.
BioNTech stated that the plans to initiate the construction of the first state-of-the-art manufacturing site for mRNA-based vaccines in the African Union in mid-2022 is the next step in BioNTech’s efforts to implement sustainable end-to-end vaccine supply solutions on the African Continent.
According to Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa; “State-of-the-art facilities like this will be life-savers and game-changers for Africa and could lead to millions of cutting-edge vaccines being made for Africans, by Africans in Africa. This is also crucial for transferring knowledge and know-how, bringing in new jobs and skills and ultimately strengthening Africa’s health security. The World Health Organisation is ready to work with countries to step up their commitment to vaccine manufacturing.”
While on her part, Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa, who is the Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission stated that, “By working together, in the spirit of this meeting, the African Union, the European Union, key technology partners, and other stakeholders, can make decisive contributions and effective coordination in the fight against this pandemic and future health challenges.”
Ugur Sahin, who is the CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech stated that “I would like to thank all participants of today’s meeting for the support and trust to establish the first mRNA manufacturing facility within the African Union. Together, we will work on developing a regional manufacturing network to support the access to vaccines manufactured in Africa, for Africa.”
He further stated that the goal is to develop vaccines in the African Union and to establish sustainable vaccine production capabilities to jointly improve medical care in Africa. In his words, “We have made great progress in the past few weeks, which will help us on our way to turn these plans into reality.”
Sierk Poetting who is the COO of BioNTech buttressed Ugur Sahin’s statements and reiterated, “We aim to accelerate the building of a GMP-certified manufacturing facility and plan to begin the construction on-site in mid-2022. The MoU underlines that time is a critical success factor in the development of sustainable vaccine production for the African Union.
“We have finalized the planning and initial assets for the new facility have already been ordered.”
The European Union Commissioner for International Partnerships, Ms Jutta Urpilainen, stated that; “The plant will improve access to vaccines on the African continent. I am proud to welcome this next concrete step towards making mRNA-based vaccines in Africa, for Africa. And through our Team Europe Initiative on local manufacturing and access to vaccines, medicines and medical technologies, the European Union is committed to making this initiative a success.”
Whilst Holm Keller, who is the Executive Chairman of the kENUP Foundation stated that “Global vaccine equity is key to accelerating the end of the pandemic. Today’s announcement is an important next step towards sustainable vaccine production in Africa. We are grateful to our partners for their decisive contribution and their relentlessness towards making swift Africa vaccine production a reality.”
All parties present concurred to jointly establish end-to-end manufacturing capacities for mRNA-based vaccines on the African Continent which would commence immediately.
Noteworthy is the fact that BioNTech is reported to have finalised the construction plans and ordered the assets, which will be delivered by mid-2022. According to the company, “The new manufacturing facility could become the first node in a decentralized and robust African end-to-end manufacturing network enabling an annual manufacturing capacity of several hundreds of million mRNA vaccine doses.”
Also, according to BioNTech, the firm’s plan is to develop and implement a scalable construction network based on the expertise and learnings from the ramp-up of the Company’s production facility in Marburg in Germany. To enable an expedient set-up of production capacities according to GMP standards, BioNTech will start with the construction and validation of a first production line enabling the manufacturing of drug products for about 50 million COVID-19 vaccine doses per year, once fully operational. The capacity will be increased sequentially by adding further manufacturing lines and sites to the manufacturing network on the continent, supporting the production of several hundreds of millions of mRNA vaccine doses.
BioNTech stated that it would initially staff, own and operate the facility to support the safe and rapid initiation of the production of mRNA-based vaccine doses. And thereafter, BioNTech plans to transfer manufacturing capacities and the know-how to local partners.
At this juncture, it is imperative to state that BioNTech, the Rwanda Development Board and Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal have also agreed to swiftly build up the required human resources capacity, skillsets and systems (i.e. ecosystem) so that the partners can take over ownership and operational duties.
Furthermore, the Republic of Rwanda and the Republic of Senegal (via the Institut Pasteur de Dakar) have committed to scale-up fill and finish capacities to complete the local end-to-end manufacturing process. The vaccination manufacturing facility would be situated in Rwanda’s Special Economic Zone, in Gasabo District, in Kigali.
Those who participated at the signing of the MOU which was organised by kENUP Foundation were Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Dr Daniel Ngamije; Senegal’s Foreign Affairs Minister, FM Aïssata Tall Sall; CEO and Co-Founder of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin; COO of BioNTech, Sierk Poetting; Director-General of Rwanda Biomedical Centre, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana; Director-General of Institut Pasteur de Dakar, Dr Amadou Alpha Sall. Also in attendance were Ms Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships and Ms Maria Shaw-Barragan who is the Director of the Department in the European Investment Bank (EIB) that handles the lending operations in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific, Asia and Latin America.