BioNTech to ship modular mRNA factories to Africa

Feb. 17, 2022

BioNTech is taking its mRNA vaccine-producing technology to Africa in an effort to promote scalable vaccine production. The company plans to ship new modular factories, called BioNTainers, to several countries in Africa to aid and accelerate COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution. 

Each BioNTainer is built from six shipping containers. According to the company, each container is equipped with cutting-edge technology for the formulation and manufacturing of mRNA. Together, two of the containers can produce 50 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, while occupying just 800 square meters of space.

The company plans to ship its modular factories to Rwanda, Senegal and potentially South Africa by the end of 2022. 

Each unit, made up of two BioNTainers, can produce mRNA vaccines in bulk but does not have the capacity to complete the fill-and-finish step. BioNTech said this step could be taken over by local partners in Ghana and South Africa. The end-to-end manufacturing technology has the power to increase mRNA vaccine manufacturing worldwide and strengthen the African manufacturing network, said Sierk Poetting, the COO of BioNTech.

Vaccines produced in the factories would be used for domestic use in Africa and exported to other member states of the African Union at a not-for-profit price. Africa has received only 6% of the 9 billion COVID-19 vaccines produced, despite having over 17% of the world’s population. Less than 10% of Africans are fully vaccinated, compared to 54% of the world’s population.

The initiative was presented at a meeting at BioNTech’s new manufacturing facility in Marburg, Germany, where it was met with support from African leaders in attendance like Rwandan president, Paul Kagame. He hailed the initiative as a “new horizon for global vaccine equity.” Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of the Republic of Ghana, said the approach is another step in African self-sufficiency in vaccine production. 

The use of the BioNTainers will not be limited to COVID-19 vaccine production, BioNTech said. The modules will be capable of manufacturing other mRNA-based vaccines like the company's investigational malaria and tuberculosis vaccines, if successfully developed and approved by authorities. 

BioNTech will be responsible for installing and delivering the BioNTainers while local organizations will be responsible for ensuring the appropriate infrastructure is provided. Manufacturing is expected to begin one year after the final delivery of the modules in Africa, according to BioNTech.