South Africa just launched a new COVID-19 vaccine plant in Cape Town on Jan. 19. 

Biotech billionaire, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong of California-based companies ImmunityBio and NantWorks, has helped launch a vaccine plant and health facility that aims to produce 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines by 2025. 

NantAfrica, a division of the global company, NantWorks, will spearhead vaccine development and production, as well as focus on researching solutions and treatments for cancers and infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB. 

“We are privileged to have the opportunity to bring 30 years of clinical, scientific, and advanced biological know-how to the country and establish much needed capacity and self-sufficiency,” said Soon-Shiong. 

This initiative and facility launch is backed by the South African presidency and government, with the country’s departments of health, and science and innovation, as well as some of South Africa’s leading bioscience institutes committing to help establish NantAfrica’s presence in the country, and assist with conducting medical research. 

On the launch of the new NantAfrica vaccine plant, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised that Africa having its own manufacturing facilities will be key to the continent’s self-sufficiency. 

“Africa should no longer be last in line to access vaccines against pandemics,” the president said. “Africa should no longer go cap in hand to the western world, begging and begging for vaccines that they just want to drip off from the end of their tables. We will stand on our own.”

Africa has been struggling to access COVID-19 vaccines as a result of wealthy nations hoarding vaccines, and the refusal of pharmaceutical companies to share their technology and information with the continent, a move that could vastly improve Africa’s access to lifesaving doses. 

“It is within the walls of this facility, through the networks being built, through advanced skills being developed, and through other initiatives across our continent, that our vision for vaccine, diagnostics and drug manufacturing in Africa will steadily take form,” said Ramaphosa.

NantWorks and ImmunityBio have been working on developing a COVID-19 vaccine that, according to the companies, began its trial phase in September last year. The idea is that the NantWorks jab can be taken independently, or on top of any other previously received coronavirus vaccines, and will work to improve immunity against the virus using the body’s T cells (defensive white blood cells). 

Africa’s new vaccine manufacturing facility’s activity will be dependent on the jab being approved for use in South Africa, with trials currently underway in South Africa, Botswana, and Australia. 

T cell booster COVID-19 vaccines, such as the one being worked on by the NantWorks and ImmunityBio, are being looked at optimistically by experts and have shown great promise so far. It was proven in December 2021 that these jabs are safe and broadly protective against coronavirus variants. These vaccines would aim to armour the body’s T cells to tackle the virus, rather than using an antibody response, which is what existing COVID-19 vaccines currently do. 

“It is my belief that this is our path to stopping this pandemic,” Soon-Shiong said on the development of his company’s T cell vaccines. “This is our path to stopping all these mutations.”

Overall, NantAfrica promises to deliver the next generation of vaccine solutions, not just for COVID-19, but for other infectious diseases such as HIV and TB, as well as for cancer. How the company plans to do this is yet to be revealed, but it says it will be leveraging its partnerships with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the South African Medical Research Council, and some of South Africa’s universities to inspect, research, and come up with solutions for some of the world’s biggest infectious diseases. 

NantWorks’ investment into Africa’s health care systems is an example of the role that the private sector can play in boosting African development and capacity. After launching the facility in South Africa, Soon-Shiong headed to Botswana to ignite conversations of medical investment in the country, with the aim of potentially expanding NantAfrica’s impact on the continent. Developments from those conversations are yet to be made public. 


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