Moderna may be holding back its plans for mRNA vaccine production in Africa, but Germany’s BioNTech is filling in the space with an expanded partnership with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

BioNTech announced Wednesday that CEPI had committed to invest up to $145 million to support the company’s plans to expand its mRNA footprint on a continent that still has to import 99% of its vaccines. The expansion will include R&D, clinical and commercial-scale manufacturing at a site in Kigali, Rwanda. Most of the money will be used to set up manufacturing capabilities for mRNA-based vaccines.

BioNTech said its facility could be the first commercial mRNA site in Africa, with the goal of producing 60% of the required vaccine doses on the continent by 2040. The partnership between BioNTech and CEPI was first announced last year with a $90 million fund to develop a vaccine for mpox, formerly known as monkeypox.

The new funding will support BioNTech in meeting the requirements for the site in Kigali to be authorized by regulators. The company also committed to use half of the site’s capacity to make mRNA vaccines in case of a disease outbreak, as well as an additional commitment to support preclinical and clinical activities by African-based researchers and academic groups, local businesses and nonprofits.

As part of the deal, BioNTech will give CEPI “affordable” access to the vaccines made at the company’s Kigali site for low- and middle-income countries, with Africa as a priority. The vaccines will include those for malaria, mpox and tuberculosis, and BioNTech has plans to eventually run clinical trials in Africa for vaccines in malaria, HIV and mpox.

BioNTech inaugurated the Kigali site in December 2023 with the set-up of the first manufacturing unit, called BioNTainer.

“Our joint efforts are strengthening the implementation of a local mRNA vaccine ecosystem – covering the entire spectrum from research and clinical trials to commercial production,” BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin said in a statement.

Moderna, another mRNA powerhouse, had plans to expand into Africa with an mRNA manufacturing facility in Kenya, but those were put on hold, the company announced in April, citing no vaccine orders from the continent since 2022. The company said that it would review what the demand for mRNA vaccines in the continent would look like while construction is paused, but that vaccines for the region would continue to be made in already-established sites. A representative for Moderna told Endpoints News that there are no new updates to its Kenya construction plans since April.

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