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MRNA Vaccine Production: Buhari welcomes exploratory interactions between Nigerian scientists, BioNtech

By Chimezie Godfrey

President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday in Abuja welcomed the exploratory interactions, between Nigerian biomedical scientists, officials of the Federal Ministry of Health and BioNTech company, to support the production of messenger RNA vaccines in Nigeria.

The President met with Mr. Holm Keller, the Executive Chairman of KENUP Foundation and representative of the CEO of BioNTech, the mRNA vaccine patent holder, in Africa.

The President expressed confidence that the interactions between the parties would be productive, leading to collaborations at many levels, from clinical trials to research and development of new vaccines and eventually support vaccine manufacturing facilities in the country.

‘‘We are impressed with the numerous possibilities said to be around the mRNA technology and hence seek cooperation with well-intentioned organizations, including yours, to build a strong bilateral partnership with your company and your affiliate bodies, as science gets closer to understanding the possibilities around successful mRNA technology.

‘‘We believe the mRNA technology will help solve other public health challenges too, especially those peculiar to our tropical environment.

‘‘As you conduct exploratory interactions with our scientists in the biomedical field and officials of the Ministry of Health, I look forward to receiving a commitment to expand collaboration to achieve our goal of developing capacities for Research & Development and manufacturing.’’

Recounting the vast inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines at the peak of the pandemic, President Buhari said Nigeria and many middle-income countries now appreciate the need for global decentralization and diversification of manufacturing capacity of items critical for public health security.

The President also used the occasion to highlight the many investment opportunities and potentials in the country, urging the Foundation and other prospective investors to pay ‘‘special attention’’ to Africa’s most populous country.

‘‘KENUP Foundation will find in Nigeria, a suitable research & development ecosystem, in terms of human resource expertise and endemic, deadly disease challenges that require research to help to end with new vaccines.

‘‘Our reputable scientific community has the capacity to engage with you meaningfully in all caliber of research and to add value to your joint effort.

‘‘Nigeria has a long tradition in vaccine manufacturing and laboratories for microbiological research, both in private and public facilities, and also for human and veterinary vaccine research, established over 80 years ago. You will find in Nigeria, biosafety Level 3 laboratories and ongoing initiatives with trusted partners to develop Level 4 capacity too.

‘‘We have a vibrant Health Ethics Research Council and our WHO Maturity Level 3 certified Regulatory body, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control regulates vaccines, and have started the process to attain Maturity Level Four, that makes pharmaceutical products made in Nigeria, including vaccines, marketable abroad.

‘‘We invest significantly in health, education, in Research and Development and encourage discovery and partnership in joint ventures, such as with a private pharmaceutical company to begin routine vaccines manufacturing in-country.’’

President Buhari, who described Nigeria as the gateway to West African business and commerce, and the preferred destination for ECOWAS citizens in search of markets, added that Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, a Public Private Partnership company and other private companies are at varying stages of acquiring capacities for local manufacturing of vaccines.

Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said President Buhari has “passion for public health security, hence your receiving this team,” which he added was around to explore possibilities of collaboration in manufacture of new vaccines.

Mr Holm Keller described his organization as a public-benefit foundation dedicated to innovation in public health.

He said he was thrilled to learn of the great work President Buhari and his administration has done for Nigeria, “and the aim of our mission is to establish research partnerships, which would benefit Nigeria and Africa.

“We want to contribute to vaccine equity through manufacturing scheme suitable to the country. We are working on malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, monkeypox, and other vaccines, to be manufactured in Africa.”

Keller added that there was also the plan to find African personalized treatment for cancer, which is only available to the richest of the rich in some parts of the world.

“We want to change that, and are working on therapeutic vaccines that can stop the growth of tumors. We want it to be available globally, and not just in wealthy countries. We want to explore opportunities in this domain, and support your good work.”

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