NAIROBI (Reuters) – COVID-19 vaccine maker BioNTech aims to start production at its mRNA vaccine factory site in Rwanda in 2025, company officials said on Monday, the first foreign company mRNA vaccine manufacturing site on the continent.
The German company’s first modular factory elements, based on shipping containers, were delivered to the Kigali construction site in March and were then assembled into so-called BioNTainers.
“Africa will have one of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world,” Ugur Sahin, BioNTech co-founder and chief executive officer, said. “These BioNTainers will able to manufacture any kind of mRNA vaccines.”
The company said in a statement it had fully funded the facility, committing a total of $150 million.
The company, which developed the Western world’s most widely used COVID-19 shot with U.S. partner Pfizer, in 2022 laid out a plan to enable African countries to produce its Comirnaty-branded shot under BioNTech’s supervision.
BioNTech on Monday reiterated that the BioNTainers could make other mRNA vaccines, depending on product development progress and public health priorities.
BioNTech has said that the initial vaccine factory could over the next few years become part of a wider supply network spanning several African nations including Senegal and South Africa.
At the time BioNTech made the announcement to set up in Africa, there had been a much criticised delay in shipping of Western-made coronavirus vaccine doses to the continent.
“The African Union came together to make a firm commitment that we would not allow ourselves to be in that position again,” Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said at the ceremony to inaugurate the factory site.
The move to start production in Africa is also part of BioNTech’s push to expand mRNA manufacturing globally. The firm has so far relied on its German sites for mRNA production, as well as on sites run by its partner Pfizer in the United States and Belgium.
Rival Moderna in March this year unveiled plans to establish an mRNA manufacturing facility in Kenya, which would be its first such facility in Africa.
(Reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi, Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt, Philbert Girinema in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique; Editing by Nick Macfie)