The American laboratory has been very closed from the beginning with the development of its vaccine. Unlike competitors like Pfizer, they haven't even done marketing to the rest of the world and refuse to reveal their formula.
The WHO (World Health Organization) hired an African company, Afrigen Biologics, and Vaccines, to find a formula as close as possible to that of the mRNA vaccine developed by Moderna in the United States. It is part of a plan in which the WHO is investing more than 100 million dollars and aims to bring these vaccines to countries around the planet.
Until now, Afrigen specialized in veterinary vaccines. Commissioned by the WHO, the laboratory has become a trial and error room for mRNA technology.
“You walk in, and you can see scientists in their white coats and others in protective suits from head to toe operating a bioreactor to create DNA. In other rooms, microbiology, everything is pristine for testing. In other rooms, there are samples displayed to understand how the product reacts to different conditions of temperature and humidity ”, explained Petro Terblanche, CEO of Afrin.
Suppose Afrin can figure out the formula, and the Moderna-like vaccine can be produced there. In that case, the WHO will pay them to turn the lab into a school where the formula is taught to other scientists.
“We call it the technology transfer center. Manufacturers from all over the world will be invited to come and learn the whole process. This is going to accelerate the availability of this technology not through one manufacturer, but several ”, explained Martin Friede, the WHO officer in charge of this project.
Suppose the vaccine is produced in various regions of the world. In that case, the difference in access to vaccines between some areas and others could begin to narrow. While the United States and Europe today have almost control of these vaccines, Africa and the Middle East have virtually no production of their own.
So far, in the entire African continent, only 5% of the population has been fully vaccinated. According to WHO, this is mainly because there is no actual vaccine factory on the continent, but rather a few packers that handle the final steps in production.
Health officials are excited about the possibility that many laboratories in the world can work with mRNA technology, not only because of its effectiveness against COVID-19 but because of the potential benefits it could have in other diseases such as malaria or tuberculosis.
Although Moderna has decided not to share the formula, the laboratory has assured on several occasions that during the pandemic, they will not sue anyone who tries to copy them. That is why the WHO was inclined to look for the Moderna formula rather than Pfizer, which also uses mRNA technology.
Moderna's patent is public and has a lot of information, but "it 's written in such a way that they don't tell everything, " Terblanche explained. Therefore, Africa has determined the necessary components but does not know the concentrations, times, and mixtures.
When asked about plans to share more about the formula, Moderna executives responded that they plan to open a manufacturing plant in Africa in the short term.