South Africa to manufacture pneumonia vaccine

5 November 2015

An important pneumonia bacteria vaccine will be made in South Africa within the next five years, following a partnership between the global pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer; the local biotechnology organisation, Biovac Institute; and the Department of Science and Technology.

The vaccine, Prevenar 13, has proven to be effective in preventing pneumococcal infection in children from six weeks to five years old and in adults of 50 years and older. It will be manufactured at Biovac’s new commercial-scale facility in Cape Town.

This move fulfils several of the goals of the National Development Plan Vision 2030, including ensuring access to health care for all South Africans and enhancing South Africa’s competitiveness in the field of medicine and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Science Minister Naledi Pandor officially launched the public-private partnership on 3 November.

Pandor said the partnership demonstrated South Africa’s ability to do successful technology transfers in the bio-economy space. Local manufacturing is due to start in 2020.

“This demonstration of successful technology transfer with Pfizer is one of the prerequisites for unlocking future technology transfers that will see Biovac becoming the major vaccine manufacturer in Africa.”

She went on to explain that the strategy would alleviate South Africa’s continued dependence on imports and the consequent threat to security of supply of essential vaccines.

Prevenar 13 vaccine

Prevenar 13 vaccine is used to prevent infection caused by pneumococcal bacteria. The vaccine contains 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. It exposes the body to a small amount of the bacteria or a protein from the bacteria, helping to develop immunity to the disease.

While the vaccine will not treat an active infection that has already developed in the body, it will prevent anyone vaccinated from being infected in the future. The vaccine can be used for children between six weeks and 5 years old, as well as adults 50 years and older.

“Preventing pneumococcal disease is a priority for Pfizer in South Africa,” said Jennifer Power, the South African country manager for the pharmaceutical company. “We have already seen great results since vaccination was introduced and we are pleased to partner with Biovac, sharing best practices, knowledge and skills to continue to make a real difference for patients.”

“We are confident that this partnership will help to ensure the sustainable supply of our pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for patients in South Africa,” Power added.

Locally relevant vaccines

Biovac chief executive Dr Morena Makhoana said the company was committed to developing and establishing a strong and locally relevant vaccine capability, specifically vaccine process and product development in South Africa.

“We believe that this partnership with Pfizer will strengthen our ability to deliver a potentially life-saving vaccine for South African children, as well as accelerate our technological knowledge in vaccine development,” Dr Makhoana said.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi reiterated that the vaccine partnership should be celebrated as it would benefit not only South Africa but the whole Southern African region. “The launch of the local manufacture of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is a stepping stone to the ultimate dream of developing our own vaccines on the continent, for the continent.”

The partnership facilitates technology transfer from Pfizer to Biovac in compliance with international Good Manufacturing Practice standards. Pfizer will also implement a skills transfer process. This will equip Biovac employees to continue manufacturing the vaccines after the transfer period.

Biovac was established in 2003 as a public-private partnership with the aim of restructuring state vaccine assets to ensure domestic capacity in vaccine production, as well as a local skills base.

The Department of Health introduced Prevenar 13 to South Africa in 2011. Results from a laboratory-based survey, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2014, showed that the introduction of the vaccine in South Africa substantially reduced invasive pneumococcal infections in children – one of the top five killers of children under the age of five.

Source: South African Government News Agency