South African scientists copy Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine

The vaccine candidate is the continent's first mRNA vaccine to be designed, developed, and produced at a lab scale.

Afrigen Biologics, based in South Africa, used the publicly accessible sequence of Moderna Inc's mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to develop its own version of the jab, which could be tested in humans before the end of the year, according to Afrigen's top executive. The vaccine candidate would be the first to be created without the assistance and approval of the vaccine's inventor. It's also the continent's first mRNA vaccine to be designed, manufactured, and produced at a lab scale. After market leaders of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna, declined a Whole Health Organization (WHO) request to share their technology and expertise, the WHO chose a consortium including Afrigen for a pilot project last year to give poor and middle-income countries the know-how to make COVID-19 vaccines.

The WHO and consortium partners hope that this technology transfer hub would assist to bridge the gap in vaccine access between rich and poor countries. The hub's first recipient will be Biovac, a partly state-owned South African vaccine manufacturer. There are still many steps to go before Afrigen's mRNA vaccine candidate can be disseminated to individuals in Africa and worldwide. The WHO hopes that the process of developing it would pave the way for a more widely dispersed mRNA vaccine industry. The WHO chose Moderna's vaccine due to a wealth of publicly available information and the company's promise not to enforce patents during the pandemic. It's unclear what will happen after the pandemic is over, or whether the firm will try to enforce the rules once more.