Nigeria waits as Moderna decides African country to host its $500m Covid plant
The American pharmaceutical giant Moderna has outlined infrastructure endowment as well as political stability as part of conditions for locating its planned five hundred million dollars covid manufacturing plant in Africa. It already has a short list of five African countries but won’t say if Nigeria has a chance.
Moderna which is keeping the short list of five countries to its chest, also listed well educated workforce suitable for a high-tech messenger RNA factory. In July, Pfizer ignored Nigeria and chose South Africa to host its own covid plant and Senegal has been mentioned as a possible candidate by other global pharmaceutical companies.
A decision on which African country will host the plant is to be taken in the coming months, says CEO Stephane Bancel. The hosting rights come with significant well paying jobs, technology acquisition capable of spurring advancement in the pharmaceutical and allied sectors and the country that eventually wins can brag about its credentials in a world where investment decisions like this help determine your power and influence.
There is a short list of some five African countries with the political stability, infrastructure and educated workforce suitable for a high-tech messenger RNA factory, Bancel said. Moderna plans to talk to those countries and make a decision where to build the African plant in the coming months, Bancel said.
The $500m African plant will be capable of producing half a billion messenger RNA vaccine doses a year. Moderna will start working on site selection soon, it said. It is unclear if Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation which has lost out in previous deals is in contention to win the battle to host the Moderna plant.
In a statement, the company said that the new factory would produce the drug substance for messenger RNA vaccines, including its Covid-19 vaccine and shots for other diseases, and potentially also have vial-filling capabilities.
Moderna has been under pressure to make its vaccine in Africa, the continent with the lowest immunization rate.
The other main manufacturers of mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE, announced a deal in July to start producing shots at a facility in Cape Town, South Africa.
In an interview, Moderna CEO Bancel said the aim was to build a factory comparable to the company’s main U.S. production facility in Norwood, Massachusetts. It will be owned and operated by Moderna but staffed mostly with local workers.
The deal wouldn’t involve transfer of intellectual property, Bancel said. He noted that the company has previously said it won’t enforce its patents related to Covid vaccines during the pandemic.
“We want to bring the mRNA technology to Africa and build a plant there,” Bancel said.
Pfizer and BioNTech plan to start producing their Covid-19 vaccine at a Biovac Institute facility in Cape Town. Biovac is partly owned by the South African government.
The companies have said they plan to begin producing finished doses in 2022. Unlike the Moderna plant, which will produce the active mRNA ingredients for vaccines, the Biovac facility will be focused on the final stage of the manufacturing process, vial filling and packaging.