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Gates Foundation Helps mRNA Vaccine Development in Africa

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced last week that it will invest $40 million in African drug makers. The money will help produce new messenger RNA vaccines in Africa. The continent’s people were the last to receive vaccinations against COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The foundation said that its investment marks an important step forward in improving vaccine equity. It said making vaccines and getting them approved for use could take at least three more years.

“Whether it’s for local diseases in Africa like Rift Valley (fever) or for global diseases like TB (tuberculosis), mRNA looks like a very promising approach,” Bill Gates told the Associated Press.

The Microsoft founder added, during a visit to the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, “And so it allows us to bring in lots of African capabilities to work on these vaccines, and then this can be scaled up.”

The announcement came as the foundation opened its yearly three-day Grand Challenges event. The gathering brought together scientists and public health researchers from around the world.

Institut Pasteur, along with South Africa-based company Biovac, will be using an mRNA research and manufacturing process developed by Quantoom Biosciences in Belgium.

The foundation is giving five million dollars to each vaccine manufacturer. It will award another $10 million to other companies not yet identified. The remaining $20 million is going to Quantoom “to further advance the technology and lower costs.”

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech along with Moderna used the mRNA technology to develop COVID-19 vaccines in record time. The medicine supplies genetic direction to human cells leading to antibody production to fight COVID-19.

Those COVID-19 mRNA vaccines were quickly pushed through approval processes and received emergency use permission during the pandemic. The new vaccines under development in Africa will take longer anywhere from three to seven years.

Dr. Amadou Sall is chief executive officer at Institut Pasteur. He said the deal will help build vaccine self-reliance in Africa. The organization has been producing yellow fever shots since the 1930s. It now hopes mRNA technology can be used to produce vaccines for other diseases in Africa including Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.

“What we want is next time there is a pandemic — we hope it won’t happen soon — Africa would be able to make its own vaccine, to contribute to the development, and make sure that we protect the population,” Sall said. “What happened with COVID should never happen again in the sense that Africans should get vaccinated as a matter of equity.”

Jose Castillo is the leader of Quantoom Biosciences. He said the mRNA technologies permit low- and middle-income countries “to become autonomous in terms of research and development.”

With $8.3 billion to give away in 2023, the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest private philanthropic donor. The organization has spent billions of dollars to vaccinate against polio, treat and prevent malaria and HIV and, more recently, to develop vaccines for diseases like cholera.

SOURCE: VOA LearningEnglish (https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/gates-foundation-helps-mrna-vaccine-development-in-africa/7306039.html)