At the 2023 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in October 2023 Bill Gates announced new Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation investments to encourage mRNA research and vaccine manufacturing technology in lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These investments will reduce the costs of mRNA research and manufacturing to enable expanded access to critical tools. The Foundation states that this move “builds on lessons” from “more than 20 years” of collaboration with manufacturers in LMICs. 

Investing in mRNA 

The Gates Foundation announced a total of $40 million in funding to “advance access” to Quantoom Biosciences’ mRNA research and manufacturing platform. This was developed with an early-research Grand Challenges grant to Univercells. $5 million will go to Institut Pasteur de Dakar (IPD) and Biovac to acquire the technology and apply it to the development of “locally relevant vaccines”. The Foundation will also provide $20 million to Quantoom Biosciences to ensure that LMICs can benefit from next-generation mRNA health tools. A further $10 million will go to LMIC vaccine manufacturers. 

Quantoom’s modular mRNA technology enables simpler and cheaper use of mRNA technology. Compared with traditional mRNA technology the Quantoom platform could reduce the cost of vaccine production by more than 50%. It could also reduce the need for “highly trained experts”, a major barrier to vaccine deployment in LMICs.  

Quantoom’s CEO, José Castillo is “thrilled” to partner with IPD and Biovac to scale the technology in Senegal and South Africa, increasing access to novel mRNA vaccines.  

“The development of new vaccines is costly, resource intensive, and concentrated in high-income countries.” 
A positive reception 

Dr Muhammad Ali Pate, Nigeria’s coordinating minister of health and social welfare and global expert on vaccines, welcomed the collaboration as an “encouraging step”. 

“Putting innovative mRNA technology in the hands of researchers and manufacturers in Africa and around the world will help ensure more people benefit from next-generation vaccines.”  

CEO of IPD, Dr Amadou Sall, also welcomed the funding, which will “promote the development of lifesaving technologies on the continent while also contributing to global health security”.  

“Expanding our capacity to discover and manufacture affordable mRNA vaccines in Africa is an important and necessary step towards vaccine self-reliance in the region.”  

CEO of Biovac is Morena Makhoana, who believes that the collaboration will “help close critical gaps in access”. It also supports Biovac’s mission to establish end-to-end vaccine manufacturing capability at scale in Africa for global supply”.  

“Innovation can be transformative, but only if it reaches the people who need it most.”  

Trevor Mundel, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Division states that “expanding the availability of affordable, high-quality vaccines that meet the needs of local communities” is “one of the best ways” of improving global health outcomes. 

“By lowering barriers to access for low- and middle-income countries we can help ensure more people around the world benefit from lifesaving health innovation.”  

We are looking forward to exploring mRNA development and vaccine capacity in LMICs in more detail at the Congress in Barcelona next week. It’s not too late to join us there, so get your tickets today.  

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