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Visit of the Belgian sovereigns Philippe and Mathilde to Afrigen Biologics

Belgian Royal delegation visits the Afrigen facilities where Univercells and Etherna will be supporting the development of the first African-owned mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

During their state visit to South Africa last March, Queen Mathilde and King Philippe visited the Afrigen biologics facilities in Cape Town to learn more about how two Belgian companies, Univercells and Etherna, are supporting the development of the first African-owned mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to further discuss cooperation and partnership between the two countries and focus, among other things, on business and development.

Given the strong commitment from Belgium and the European Union towards supporting regional production autonomy, and the fact that the mRNA Technology Transfer Programme co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), is at the epicenter of this global effort, the Royal delegation made it a point to include a visit to Afrigen as part of their stay.

This royal visit takes place just one year after a visit from former Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir, who visited the premises with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO and virologist Marc Van Ranst, when looking for a partner to develop a patent-free affordable vaccine against COVID-19. Belgium invested € 4 million in the mRNA Technology Transfer Programme and in December 2021 an agreement was signed between Afrigen, Univercells Group and Etherna for the development of a novel mRNA vaccine in June 2022.

Quantoom Biosciences, a Univercells’ company, is leading the development of the mRNA production technology that encompasses all the steps of RNA production, from sequence construct to large scale production, allowing for rapid growth and scale-up. Dramatically more efficient than existing methods, it was built with distributed and decentralized manufacturing in mind – ensuring that processes can be easily transferred across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Today, the project has delivered exceptional results based on the analytical characterization proven to be compliant to Critical Quality Attributes (CQA) specifications, allowing the company to transfer its process to Afrigen.

Afrigen and Univercells are supported in the collaboration by mRNA expert development partner Etherna. The resulting vaccine will be manufactured by Afrigen on Quantoom’s production platform. Etherna were instrumental in its development and also provided a thermostable LNP formulation making distribution of the vaccine possible across the continent to even the remotest rural communities.

It is in this context that the King and the Queen decided to visit Afrigen and meet both Belgian companies and South African partners who are working together for the development of this milestone vaccine.

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