Aspen’s covid flop Africa seems to be sick of the vaccine-making drive

Africa’s drive to establish a vaccine industry has stumbled upon the first hurdle after being behind the line in the global fight for the Covid-19 shots.

As the Omicron variant spread through South Africa late last year, the continent’s largest pharmaceutical company was negotiating a deal to develop a Covid-19 vaccine under license from Johnson & Johnson. Five months later, and since production began in March, Aspen Pharmacare Holdings has not received a single order. Now it is considering using the anesthetic

Read: Aspen could close Covid vaccine line in a few weeks

The lack of business is troubling for Aspen Executive and other companies offering vaccine facilities in Africa. Moderna Inc., Pfizer Inc. and biotech billionaire Patrick Sun-Xiong have all announced plans to make shots on a continent where only 15.9% of the 1.2 billion population have completed a coronavirus vaccination course.

“There were a lot of calls from both West and Africa that the best way to solve this problem was to establish our own local vaccine production capacity,” said Stavros Nikolaou, head of strategic trade at Aspen. What happened next “sends an incredibly bad message,” he said.

Read: Aspen in talks with African leaders on ordering less covid vaccine

The result was also a shock to African governments who hoped to see the newly established benefits of using nothing but coronaviruses. They could also be adapted to help fight future epidemics and neglected diseases such as malaria and HIV.

Aspen initially discussed the possibility of a vaccine made in Africa with the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, and the head of the World Bank, John Enkengasong. The plan was to use the newly built sterile facilities to make the Covid-19 shot.

The company signed an agreement with J&J in September 2020 to bring the U.S. firm’s candidate under the contract, and produced about 180 million vaccines under that arrangement. Aspen began training about 500 people to work on the Covid vaccine line, and production at Aspen’s site in the South African city of Gakeberhat began in early 2021.

This would be the first vaccine made by Aspen and the company later hoped to expand production to other inoculations needed across the continent, almost all of which were imported.

One problem was that Aspen’s shots under the J&K agreement went unheeded and many were leaving Africa even though it became clear that the continent was struggling to get the supplies it needed.

The ultimate reward for Aspen was to make shots under license instead of contract, allowing it to decide on the recipients of the dose produced.

An employee wearing personal protective equipment at the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine production line at the Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Limited plant in Gokeberhat, South Africa.

It is linked to the African Union’s policy document, which states that all vaccine imports to Africa should be reduced by the required 40% by 2040, from the current 99%. New sites were planned and it became clear that AU had created cove shots as a first step towards this goal.

‘Financial failure’

The Aspen vaccine, which uses J&J substance but its brand name Aspenovax, has become the first Covid-19 vaccine produced in Africa for Africans. But, the world has overwhelmed itself with doses that are less willing to take people, Kovacs, a global initiative designed to give shots to poor countries, and African governments refrained from ordering.

In 2020 and 2021, “we were very excited to buy a vaccine made by Aspen on the African continent,” but J&J chose to supply from other regions, said Gavi, a key supporter of the Global Vaccine Alliance and Covax. Not buying. ”

Workers transport boxes of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine from the production line of the Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Limited plant in Gokeberha, South Africa.

J&J, in response to a question, said it was “committed to supporting Africa’s response to Covid-19” and provided a “significant proportion” of doses made under the Aspen agreement to the continent.

The lack of an order is a “financial failure,” Abdu Salam Gue, director of regional emergency preparedness and response at the WHO’s African office, said in a conference call this month. “We will learn from it.”

Although the WHO did not financially contribute to Aspen’s initiative, the World Bank and government agencies in the United States, France and Germany announced a 600 600 million ($ 626 million) fund for the company in June, saying it was needed to ensure the vaccine was developed. On the continent of Africa.

Uncertain fate

“The situation in Aspen is very worrying,” Enkengsong said in a conference call earlier this month. “What will happen to the 10 or so countries that make vaccines in Africa?”

In a statement after a meeting on May 10, African heads of state urged the governments of Gavi, Kovacs and the continent to give priority to buying vaccines from African plants, saying they should pledge to buy 30% of the continent’s output.

The Biovac Institute, in partnership with Pfizer, a South African firm, has spent about R300 million ($ 19 million) annually to package and distribute 100 million doses of the company’s covid vaccine in Africa. Morena Makhoyana, chief executive of the Cape Town-based company, said she was concerned about what was happening in Aspen.

With negotiations for a licensing agreement between Aspen and J&J, which have been in the pipeline for more than a year, “the world cannot say more broadly that we did not know that Aspen would have the power,” Nicolaou said. If Gavi and Kovacs soon fail to show interest, “the need for regional production will remain only a political beauty that has no substance,” he said.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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