Kenya and Belgium have agreed to establish a biomanufacturing training hub in the country.
According to President William Ruto, Unizima, which belongs to Univercells Group, a Belgian biotech company, will provide Kenya with technical and industrial support.
This is in line with Africa CDC’s vision to build manufacturing capacity in Africa to produce at least 1.5 billion vaccine doses per year by 2040, enabling the African vaccine-manufacturing industry to develop, produce, and supply over 60 per cent of the total vaccine doses required on the continent by 2040, up from less than 1 per cent.
President Ruto who was on a tour of Unizima’s biomanufacturing campus and production facility in Jumet, Belgium was accompanied by a diplomatic Kenyan delegation, senior members of the Belgian government, as well as Minister-President Elio Di Rupo and Minister of Development and Urban Policy Caroline Gennez.
“The Government of Kenya is committed and determined to realise the constitutional right to health in the shortest time possible by delivering universal health coverage. We are therefore delighted to initiate a collaboration with Unizima and the Univercells Group as we share a common mission and values,” he said.
“This new partnership is an important step towards building local training and workforce capacities in Kenya, which is crucial for the health and well-being of the fastgrowing Kenyan population to advance and formalize their commitment to building a thriving biopharma skills base in Kenya and the wider East Africa region."
Apart from Unizima, the other five founding partners for the initiative include the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH), the Kenya BioVax Institute, Egerton University and the Pharmacy and Poison Board.
In the agreement, Unizima will provide her Kenyan partners with expertise, advisory support and training and technology transfer.
“Unizima’s work in the region and Univercells’ deep connection with the Belgian and European biomanufacturing ecosystem was fundamental to the Kenyan government’s decision to partner with the Group. The Kenyan government also showed interest in Univercells’s GMP manufacturing facilities and in the group’s know-how and technological capabilities deployed in South Africa, through the mRNA technology transfer Hub program co-led by the World Health Organization and the Medicines Patent Pool,” Univercell Group told the Nation.
“Kenya has already been selected to participate in the WHO mRNA program, with the Kenya BioVax Institute designated as one of the six ‘spokes’ in Africa, all parties have expressed enthusiasm about the long-term potential for Belgium and Kenya collaboration," President Ruto said.
Speaking to the Nation in an interview, KEMRI acting director general Professor Elijah Songok noted that in this partnership KEMRI will live its mission of providing leadership in human health research, capacity building and service delivery with this landmark initiative with Belgians being a clear indication.
“We are excited about this partnership with Unizima in Belgium that will surely provide KEMRI with expertise, advisory support and training and technology, particularly in the area of the biomanufacturing ecosystem which is fundamental to the Kenyan people. We will lead the Kenyan institutions, particularly in research and development.”
Caroline Gennez, the Minister of Development and Urban Equity said, “through combined efforts, we hope African countries will soon be able to develop and produce their own vaccines and biotherapeutics, leading a more resilient health system.
According to Hala Audi, CEO of Unizima, this is an exciting moment.
“This new partnership with Kenya, after groundbreaking collaborations in Senegal and South Africa, continues our approach to work hand in hand with partners in Africa who are investing in their own new biopharma capability. I am particularly excited by the combination of great science, experienced teaching institutions and sharp focus on getting to commercial GMP manufacturing in Kenya,” she said.
“As Univercells, we couldn’t be prouder to support our partners to match the latest technology in the biomanufacturing or even better leapfrog to the next one as Kenya has shown the world in telecoms and IT.”
Earlier this year, Kenya joined, as a state party, the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) which is based in South Korea.