Biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong on Thursday said he will begin transferring technology to make Covid-19 and cancer vaccines in South Africa.
The South African-born and now United States-based doctor, provided details of the plan that will see coronavirus vaccine production starting next year in an online press conference with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Soon-Shiong’s company NantWorks will transfer the technology within the next three months and vaccine production is expected to begin in 2022.
The government’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the South African Medical Research Council and the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, as well as four local universities, according to a statement from Ramaphosa’s office.
In addition to the vaccines, the NantWorks initiative will work on cell-based immunotherapies that could lead to new cancer treatments.
The California-based physician Soon-Shiong said this is “a historic moment in my life, it’s been a life dream to look at technologies we can bring back home”.
“We are now set with the knowledge, technology to manufacture vaccines in Africa,” he said. “It is my goal and hope that Africa will benefit from this technology.”
Ramaphosa described the investment, as “a game-changer” for South Africa.
“This collaboration will place South Africa, and Africa as a whole at the cutting edge of healthcare, science, technology and innovation,” said Ramaphosa
In Africa “we have been bemoaning that we have not been fully prepared for this pandemic,… now this is going to make us to be ahead of the curve”, he said.
Soon-Shiong made his fortune from the success of a cancer drug that he invented. His widely varied business interests include owning the Los Angeles Times as well as a stake in the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.
He created NantWorks to invest in startups that he believes will modernise health care.
This is the third pharmaceutical production investment announced this year in South Africa — the country on the continent most affected by the pandemic.
Aspen Pharmacare is filling and packaging Johnson & Johnson shots in the southern city of Gqeberha, formerly known as Port Elizabeth.
The World Health Organisation has selected South Africa to host an mRNA manufacturing hub with Cape Town-based Biovac to complete the last step “fill and finish” for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.