Medicine bottles on a production line
  • Cape Town based pharmaceutical company Biovac has partnered with ImmunityBio from the US to manufacture its vaccine locally.
  • Phase one of the clinical trials for the vaccine began last month and is being supervised by a team of researchers at the University of Cape Town.
  • The vaccine is said to be protective against new variants of the coronavirus.
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Local pharmaceutical company Biovac plans to make a second-generation Covid-19 vaccine, that of US-based ImmunityBio, in South Africa.

Earlier this year, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) authorised clinical trials for the vaccine. Those, supervised by researchers at the University of Cape Town, are ongoing, as are trials in the United States.

The candidate is known as the hAd5 T-cell SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

ImmunityBio believes its different approach will offer protection against multiple variants of the coronavirus, such as the 501Y.V2 variant that was first discovered in South Africa.

“Unlike most of the Covid-19 vaccines currently available, ImmunityBio’s hAd5 generates T-cell immunity, which is important for long duration immunity," said Philip Robinson, of the Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California, in a statement this week.

Robinson is the principle investigator for the US trial.

"I am particularly encouraged by the immune response to the nucleocapsid protein, which may mean this vaccine will remain effective against the many emerging spike protein variants," he said.

The vaccine is being delivered in combinations across subcutaneously, under the tongue, and orally in testing.

In February, Graeme Meintjes, the second chair in the department of medicine at UCT, warned that the hAd5 T-Cell vaccine, while promising, does not provide an immediate solution to South Africa’s Covid-19 outbreak. The third, broad phase of trials is only likely to conclude at the end of 2021 – should it get to that stage. 

“The technology transfer with ImmunityBio, will build Biovac’s capability for active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing. This will allow Biovac to expand on their existing capacity, which currently allows for formulation and filling of inactivated and bacterial conjugate vaccines,” the companies said in a statement this week.

Working together will help build "a solid foundation for an independent local response to future pandemics", they said.

(Compiled by Ntando Thukwana)

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