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BioNTech considers vaccine production in Africa

The company behind the successful Covid-19 jab is now turning to Africa to develop a malaria vaccine.

Woman getting vaccinated in Kenya

The German pharmaceutical company behind one of the most effective Covid-19 jabs hopes to produce a malaria vaccine using the same technology.

BioNTech plans to expand on its success at Covid-19 by producing the first malaria vaccine based on mRNA technology.

BioNTech partnered with Pfizer to use the advanced messenger RNA tech to trigger the body to create a protein that is part of the disease-causing organism, resulting in an immune response.

"The response to the pandemic has shown that science and innovation can transform people's lives when all key stakeholders work together towards a common goal," BioNTech Chief Executive and co-founder Ugur Sahin said.

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Malaria is a complicated sickness produced by a parasite that avoids immune system identification.

"The genome of Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria, is more complex than viruses," cautioned Prakash Srinivasan, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The objective is to develop a solution that makes the parasite visible and attackable immediately.

According to the World Health Organisation, when the human body is exposed to an antigen for the first time, it takes time for the immune system to respond and produce antibodies specific to that antigen.

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So far there is only one licensed vaccine called Mosquirix which was manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.

However, medical experts say that the jab is only 39% effective against malaria.

BioNTech is also looking for suitable mRNA vaccine production facilities in Africa and has welcomed support from European Commission and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to BioNTech Chief Operating Officer Sierk Poetting said the firm will provide resources to kick start the research and initial production of the vaccine.

Along the way, BioNTech will ask its partners for support with large-scale trials, as well as setting up infrastructure, such as fill and finish sites and providing local training.

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World Health Organisation (WHO) said there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria globally in 2019, with about 409,000 deaths that year.

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