Local firm Sinergium Biotech is preparing to produce vaccines against Covid-19 based on mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology, similar to that employed by Pfizer and Moderna in their shots.
The jabs will be manufactured with Latin American countries as their intended destination, said the company, thanks to an agreement with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
"We are very happy to be receiving this technology because it not only permits us to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 but also other vaccines against other diseases in a longer term," Fernando Lobos, the director for business development at Sinergium Biotech, said last week, while recognising that this process has "yet to start."
The project will be carried out via a partnership between Sinergium Biotech, which will look after packaging the vaccine, and mAbxience, another Argentine firm belonging to the same private group, which will produce the main active ingredient, as it already does for AstraZeneca vaccines against Covid-19 in the region.
Now the two companies will have to "define the process of production on which the investments and the pending equipment will be based," indicated Lobos, speaking from the firm’s factory in Garín, Escobar, Greater Buenos Aires.
"We’re now at zero hour and embarking on the path. We know that it will take us several months to understand the technology and make the necessary investments before we can think of having a product at a clinical phase. It will not be a vaccine identical to Pfizer or Moderna, it will be a similar vaccine resulting from our process of production," Lobos said.
Sinergium Biotech, a company created in 2009, produces vaccines against pneumococcus, HPV (human papillomavirus) and seasonal flu, for which they have supplied 170 million doses to date.
Apart from Argentina, Brazil has been also selected by PAHO to develop and manufacture vaccines against Covid-19 based on mRNA, via the Instituto de Tecnologia em Inmunobiológicos Bio-Manguinhos, which forms part of the Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ) of the Brazilian Health Ministry.
The PAHO’s goal is to reduce the dependence on medicines, vaccines and medical inputs produced beyond Latin America and the Caribbean. The centres selected have pledged to create a regional hub for mRNA technology and present themselves for tenders for rotating PAHO funds, explained Lobos.
Unlike vaccines based on attenuated or inactivated viruses, mRNA gives instructions to the cells to generate a protein which unleashes an immune response to the infection.
"There are already millions of people vaccinated with this technology. We trust in all the regulatory processes and clinical testing providing the security to make this vaccine also safe," declared Lobos.
The project by the Argentine and Brazilian centres to develop and manufacture vaccines against Covid-19 for Latin America and the Caribbean on the basis of mRNA technology was first announced on September 21 by PAHO.
"We are banking on these two centres contributing in a proactive way to transferring knowledge and technology within the region," said PAHO deputy director Jarbas Barbosa, announcing the initiative in a videoconference.
A group of independent experts chose both centres from among some 30 interested candidates to participate in a regional platform launched last month by PAHO.
PAHO, explained Barbosa, is seeking to broaden productive capacity and expand a value chain within the region to boost the access to vaccines and the technological independence of the Americas, especially for public health emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Every region must have the capacity to manufacture vaccines," underlined Soumya Swaminathan, the scientific chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO), in the presentation with Barbosa, which was made during the 59th meeting of the PAHO Executive Council which ran in virtual format through to September 24.
Swaminathan highlighted the advantages of mRNA technology as used in the vaccines of the United States-German lab Pfizer/BioNTech and the US biotech company Moderna.
"In comparison with others, mRNA technology has shown itself to be very successful in vaccines against Covid-19 and is highly adaptable, not only against variants of the virus but also against other pathogens," she said.
The expert underlined the versatility of this technology, pointing out that there is already work underway to use it in immunisations against malaria and tuberculosis and for the production of monoclonal antibodies.
Barbosa indicated that this regional mRNA vaccine against Covid-19 is obtained, the two centres committed themselves to asking for a Green light from PAHO for its use, which will permit it to be offered to countries via PAHO’s Rotating Fund.
"An arduous task lies ahead of us. But what drives us is the conviction that the reward will be contributing to timely and equal access to vaccines for our region, which continues to be the worst-hit by this pandemic," he said.