LA Times Soon-Shion owner plans vaccine factory in South Africa

South African-born biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiongs NantWorks LLC has agreed to invest in a manufacturing facility and complex in the country’s Western Cape, aiming to manufacture Covid-19 and cancer vaccines.

The technology transfer is slated to take place within the next three months and production of recordings for use across Africa is slated to begin in 2022, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

NantWorks has signed a collaboration agreement with the South African Government’s Scientific and Industrial Research Council, the South African Medical Research Council and the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation. Three local universities have also joined the pact.

Soon-Shiong, who has a net worth of $ 11 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, was born in the South African coastal town of Gqeberha. He made his fortune inventing the cancer drug Abraxane in the United States and selling two companies for a combined $ 7.4 billion. His assets include the Los Angeles Times and a stake in the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.

“Since leaving the country as a young doctor, it has been a dream of mine to provide cutting-edge medical care for the 21st,” said Soon-Shiong, founder and CEO of NantWorks.

The facility will be owned by NantAfrica, a newly created entity of NantWorks, with an estimated initial cost of Rand 3 billion ($ 203 million). While it will not seek government funding if it is to eventually begin exporting vaccines, it will need government assistance in the form of tax incentives and “a reduction in bureaucracy,” Soon-Shiong said.

The company will build production facilities and a campus for the manufacture of biologics. Technology, know-how and materials for DNA, RNA, adjuvant vaccine platforms and cell therapy will be transferred to South Africa.

“There’s no reason we couldn’t make 500 million cans a year,” Soon-Shiong said in an interview. “Subject to the availability of the raw material.”

The universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal will help build centers of excellence to treat infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, as well as cancer. Another initiative will improve rapid genomic surveillance and virus mutation response in Africa, the company said.

NantAfrica aims to leverage South African medical expertise in treating diseases that are widespread in the country such as HIV, TB, human papillomavirus and cervical cancer, Soon-Shiong said.

“There are fantastic scientists with a deep understanding of these diseases,” he said. “More than in America because they see these patients every day.”

“It’s a game changer for our country,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in an online press conference.

It complements other pharmaceutical initiatives in the country. Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. manufactures COVID-19 vaccines for Johnson & Johnson. The Biovac Institute in Cape Town will manufacture COVID-19 vaccines for Pfizer Inc., and the World Health Organization is setting up an mRNA vaccine center in Cape Town.

NantWorks and its subsidiaries are conducting a COVID-19 T cell vaccine booster study among healthcare workers in Cape Town. A second phase of the COVID-19 T-cell vaccine study is underway to evaluate the first “heterologous RNA + DNA T-cell vaccine,” the company said.

The vaccine targets the nucleocapsid protein in the core of the coronavirus, which is less prone to mutations.

“I believe this is our way to stop this pandemic,” said Soon-Shiong. “This is our way of stopping all of these mutations.”

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