South Africa gets major investment to treat Covid-19, TB, cancer, and HIV

South Africa’s healthcare system has received a major boost in its efforts to treat infectious diseases such as cancer, HIV, tuberculosis and, more recently, Covid-19. 

United States-based multinational conglomerate NantWorks has entered into an agreement with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) for the transfer of manufacturing technology for Covid-19 and cancer vaccines and next-generation cell-based immunotherapies. 

Working with universities and healthcare facilities nationwide, the partnership expects to accelerate the development of next generation vaccines for infectious diseases and cancer across the African continent. 

During the official launch of the partnership on Thursday evening, 23 September, the founder of NantWorks, South African-born Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, who left the country as a young physician nearly three decades ago, said the initiative was a dream come true.

“There is such an unmet need to treat life-threatening infectious diseases such as AIDS, TB and now Covid-19. Of equal concern is the poor survival rate of patients suffering from cancer in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. The astounding advances in science have enabled new paradigms of care involving activating the immune system and changing outcomes for these diseases,” Soon-Shiong said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who attended the launch, applauded what he called a “significant investment and the commitment of Dr. Soon-Shiong”.

“This technology transfer, including manufacturing biologics, will reinforce vaccine equity sorely needed globally,” said Ramaphosa, acknowledging the opportunity to address the public health challenges experienced in South Africa and the continent and leapfrog to cutting edge technology.”

The collaboration between NantWorks and leading healthcare and research hubs in the country hopes to expedite and expand the manufacture of biologics, immunotherapeutics and vaccines in South Africa through technology transfer and advanced manufacturing facilities. 

Under the agreement, the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation will be launched in collaboration with the SAMRC and the universities of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal and will primarily focus on the genomic surveillance of, and response to, viral mutations occurring in Africa.

It will also see the establishment of clinical centres offering the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases in a collaboration between SAMRC and the universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal. Both Soon-Shiong and his wife, Michele, are Wits alumni.

The Wits vice-chancellor and principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, welcomed the partnership.

“We look forward to working with the team to conduct research at the frontiers of science, that addresses the pressing challenges of the 21st Century, and that ultimately advances better healthcare for humanity,” he said.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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