Covid-19 vaccine: WHO is working on an exchange platform for mRNA technology


The World Health Organization WHO is planning an exchange platform for mRNA technology. It is responding to the current vaccine shortage, but also to the next global pandemic, said Martin Friede, coordinator of the Initiative for Vaccine Research at the WHO at a panel discussion of the ZeroCovid campaign. Twelve companies have already signaled their willingness to throw their know-how into the new pool, and twelve countries are also suitable as production sites.

The idea of ​​this platform – or hub – provides that the partners contribute their production know-how for mRNA vaccines and pass it on to the development partners. A sub-license would be granted to the production partners via the WHO. Restrictions to certain regions are also conceivable.

In Germany, almost half of the population has at least one initial vaccination against the coronavirus. In Malawi it is 2 percent and in Chad 0.3. The accusation of a “vaccination apartheid” is already making the rounds, but from the point of view of the industrialized nations there is also concern that new mutations could set their own vaccination campaigns back. More vaccine is needed, all of the experts invited by ZeroCovid agreed, and quickly.

Biotech companies that have completed preclinical studies with their mRNA technology and are now entering the clinical phase want to take part in the know-how platform, said Friede. BionTech-Pfizer or Moderna are not involved.

The hub is concentrating on mRNA because the method has proven to be particularly effective, and there is a lot of prior knowledge from researchers at public universities who helped develop the technology, explains Friede. In addition, the technology has not yet been patented in Africa.

Patents are a hurdle in the production of Covid vaccine copies, but not in Africa. Rather, the production know-how and the training or advanced training of the relevant employees are the major challenges there. “I can have the cookbook, but I don’t yet know how to make the dish perfectly. That’s why we want to bring the best chefs together over the hub.”

Friede believes that the mRNA platform can be used to respond not only to future pandemics, but also to the major diseases of poverty. Even a vaccine for HIV could be tackled again through the spread of the technology, especially in the particularly affected countries.

Elisabeth Massute from Doctors Without Borders welcomed the hub like everyone at the conference, but objected not to forget the urgently needed help in the short and medium term. The vaccine donations of 850 million doses recently promised at the G7 summit are important for this. In view of the 11 billion doses required, this emergency aid is a drop in the ocean. Because the Covax vaccine pool is lagging far behind its obligations and the market for Covid vaccines will remain very tense due to setbacks like that of CureVac, the temporary suspension of patent protection should not be waived.

Companies in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa have expressed an interest in producing regional vaccines themselves, said Massute. The hub is a good thing, but this solution may not be fast enough for the current crisis. Friede estimates that regional production could start in two to ten years.

It can go faster, underlined Zain Rizvi from the US organization Public Citizen and Zoltan Kis from the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub of the British Imperial College. In a study they calculated, It would cost $ 9.43 billion to make 8 billion doses of the BionTech vaccine, Moderna would be significantly more expensive at $ 22 billion.

The cost of compensating companies in the billions is included in the study. It’s a high cost, but a better deal given the economic costs of a continuing pandemic, Rizvi says. Technically, the Covid-Rosskur is feasible for the world, in the end the political will is decisive.


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