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The BioVac Institute, a state-backed South African vaccine company, plans to use a deal it won to manufacture coronavirus shots as a stepping stone toward developing an inoculation export industry in the country.

The contract with U.S.-based ImmunityBio Inc., which is conducting phase 1 vaccine trials in South Africa and the U.S., will allow BioVac to transform itself from a facility that merely packages and labels the shots to one that makes the raw materials, Morena Makhoana, BioVac’s chief executive officer, said in an interview on Friday.

“What we have been working on is how do we ensure that any intervention we get into has a longer lasting impact,” he said. BioVac will build a plant at a cost of as much as 200 million euros ($238 million)to make active pharmaceutical ingredients, or APIs. It will start with the Covid-19 shots and then be able to manufacture any similar vaccines, he said.

The plant, which Makhoana said may be able to produce about 100 million doses a year, would enable BioVac to join Senegal’s Institut Pasteur de Dakar as one of two companies able to make vaccines from start to finish in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, BioVac and Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. have the ability to complete vaccines in South Africa once supplied with the APIs. Aspen will start filling Covid-19 vaccine vials on behalf of Johnson & Johnson in the second quarter of the year.

Cape Town Plant

BioVac, which is 47.5% owned by the state and 30% held by Makhoana, is in talks with ImmunityBio about taking a stake, the CEO said, without specifying whether it would be in the company or the new facility. The plant would be built in Cape Town, preferably adjacent to the company’s current operation.

“It does need to cater for beyond South Africa,” he said, adding that a scaled down version could cost as little as 50 million euros.

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