South Africa

Aspen’s plan to dominate vaccines in Africa


Africa’s plans to increase vaccine autonomy are gaining traction as the continent seeks to reduce its dependence on foreign companies that supply about 80% of the drugs and 99% of the vaccines used in the region, according to Aspen Pharmacare.

“A robust homegrown industry would help Africa ensure adequate supplies of critical treatments,” Stavros Nicolaou, Aspen’s head of strategic trade, said Monday following talks at a regional health conference in Egypt.

The Durban, South Africa-based company already has an agreement with Serum Institute of India to make and distribute four Aspen-branded vaccines in Africa, where the Covid-19 pandemic exposed a chronic lack of shot-making capacity.

While having autonomy to manufacture is very important, it’s not possible to discuss equity and sustainability without talking about intellectual-property protections, especially when it comes to chronic and endemic diseases, Nicolaou said.

Patents can take 20 years to expire and one measure to improve local manufacturing in the interim are so-called fill-and-finish agreements.

These final steps of production, if done by a number of companies across the continent, can create many thousands of jobs for African pharmacists, biologists and innovators, he said.

Aspen, which has 23 manufacturing plants, is gearing up its sterile facility to fill more vials in the southern South African city of Gqeberha.

Aspen rose in early trade in Johannesburg and was little changed as of 10:49. That brings its advance this year to 14%, compared with 4.6% on the four-member FTSE/JSE Health Care Index.

More African governments are becoming engaged in ensuring there is uptake of what is produced locally, Nicolaou said.

Also, international vaccine alliance Gavi will launch its African manufacturing accelerator for doses on 20 June. This is designed to support the sustainable growth of Africa’s production base by making make as much as $1 billion available over the next 10 years.

“There is a risk of merely relying on Gavi, which may buy from Asia or wherever is cheaper,” he said.

“But when it comes to vaccines at least, we are fairly confident we are able to compete on price, and with the Gavi top-up incentive, can track the Gavi market on the African continent.”