Talks under way for Covid-19 vaccine supply in Africa

Article by Amanda Jasi

JOHNSON & Johnson and multinational specialty pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharmacare have reached an advanced stage in discussions for a potential Covid-19 vaccine licensing agreement for supply in Africa, with subsidiaries having confirmed a non-binding term sheet.

The term sheet will form the basis for negotiating a definitive agreement to expand on existing manufacturing collaboration, that would allow manufacture and sale of an Aspen-branded Covid-19 vaccine – to be launched and branded as Aspenovax – throughout Africa. It involves Aspen SA Operations and Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Janssen Pharmaceutica.

A final agreement would grant Aspen the rights to manufacture a finished vaccine product from drug substance supplied by Johnson & Johnson, and to sell it to the public sector markets in Africa. This would be through transaction with designated multilateral organisations – including the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), Gavi/COVAX, and UNICEF – and with the national governments of African Union member states.

The companies will also discuss expanding the agreement to include any new versions of the drug, such as those to target new variants or formulated for use as boosters.

Aspen says that a definitive agreement would grant rights and supply of the Covid-19 drug substance until 31 December 2026.

According to Aspen Group Chief Executive Stephen Saad, under the existing contract manufacturing partnership, the company has manufactured 100m doses of the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine to date. Almost all of this has been supplied to Africa.

Johnson & Johnson is delivering on its commitment to supply a combined 900m doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to the African Union (via AVAT) and the COVAX Facility, through 2022. It is also collaborating with the South African Medical Research Council and others on a Phase 3b clinical study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of booster doses (second dose) of its Covid-19 vaccine in South African healthcare workers.

Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa and African Union Covid champion said: “The effectiveness of our response as the African continent to the Covid-19 pandemic has been severely hampered by the grossly unequal distribution of Covid vaccines across the world.”

“This announcement has the potential to make an important contribution to addressing vaccine inequality and building Africa’s capacity to meet its own vaccine needs now and into the future.”

Paul Stoffels, Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson & Johnson highlighted that “this is an important step toward Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing in Africa, for Africa, but a lot more needs to be done”.

“Most critically, the global community should prioritise a clear plan to scale up investment across the African continent in the specialised vaccines manufacturing infrastructure – and skilled local workforce – that will be needed to really rise to this challenge.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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