Biovac institute

The Biovac Institute, a South African vaccine company, is formulating expansion plans aimed at helping Africa become more self-sufficient when its comes to accessing the immunizing shots.   The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the continent’s reliance on imported vaccines, with limited shot-making facilities only present in South Africa, Senegal and Egypt.

Biovac – Science of Protecting Life


Biovac, which is 47.5% state-owned, is in talks to produce a Covid-19 vaccine at its facilities, and Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. has agreed to make Covid-19 shots on behalf of Johnson & Johnson at a facility in the southern city of Port Elizabeth.

It was stated they have the capability to develop and manufacture bacterial vaccines, but they need to build capability of developing viral vaccines, that will give South Africa a solid footing to deal with future pandemics.   With support from government and tech-transfer partners they believe they can raise the funds to add what they need, using the foundation that they have built.

Biovac will consider taking out loans to finance expansion, he said. It can currently manufacture about 20 to 30 million doses annually, while Aspen’s facility can produce as many as 300 million.


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Morena Makhoana, CEO of the Cape Town-based Biovac Institute (Biovac), aims to change that. Biovac was founded in 2003 with a lofty ambition – to be a modern facility capable of manufacturing vaccines and distributing them throughout South Africa and the region.

“As a company that is based in Africa with limited skills and available capital, we have had to lay a strong foundation for the past 15 years with supplying our local market,” he says.

In partnership with the South African Department of Health and other partners, Biovac delivers vaccines to all nine provinces of South Africa and a few neighbouring countries through its cold supply chain infrastructure. This amounts to more 15 million doses of vaccines every year.

To date, BIOVAC has invested €43.2 million in infrastructure and skills development, with an economic benefit of more than €27 million per year to the South African economy.


Vaccines and biogenerics.

The Biovac Institute (Cape Town; see Box 1), a public–private partnership between the South African Department of Health and the Biovac Consortium (Cape Town), is the only manufacturer of vaccines in sub-Saharan Africa.

Biovac’s mandate is to supply all of South Africa’s Expanded Program of Immunization vaccines, including DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), measles, polio, oral polio, bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) and recombinant hepatitis B virus surface antigen (HBsAg) vaccine, either by importing directly from overseas or by formulating and filling locally under good manufacturing practice (GMP) conditions.

As of early 2008, Biovac’s production of the HBsAg vaccine using bulk recombinant antigens from Cuba represented the first vaccine to be manufactured in sub-Saharan Africa since 2001 and marked a milestone in African vaccine self-sufficiency and capacity-building. Biovac’s vaccine pipeline includes a pentavalent combination vaccine (DPT + HBsAg + Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine) in one vial, which will be easier to administer than the current regime (which requires two injections and the reconstitution of Hib before use). Biovac also supplies surrounding countries, such as Swaziland, Namibia and Botswana, and in due course, it aims to apply for World Health Organization (WHO; Geneva) prequalification so it can access other markets.


A further factor with implications for human resources is the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) program, developed, in response to the inequalities left by apartheid, to improve opportunities for previously disadvantaged groups. BBBEE includes such measures as employment equity, skills development, ownership, management, socioeconomic development and preferential procurement, and it sets targets for companies to reach. Although companies were very supportive of the BBBEE concept, they were aware of associated difficulties when running a small company. One interviewee said, “I do think it’s a wise way, a comprehensive way, of tackling the thing meaningfully, but it’s a heck of challenge because it’s hard enough having to find qualified people. . . . I believe that the way out of this, though it will cost us a little bit extra, is to employ people with the relevant experience, qualifications, skills, etc., but in addition to that, employ 3 or 4 promising black people with the right credentials and have people nurture them and mentor them, so that in 3 or 4 years time when other projects come on board, we can then promote them into the project management of those projects.” Indeed, several companies were creating opportunities for the next generation of black scientists and entrepreneurs and making significant contributions to skills development in the sector.


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