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Gates Foundation announces funding for mRNA vaccine innovation and manufacturing in Africa and globally

The foundation announced a total of $40 million in funding to advance access to Quantoom Biosciences’ low-cost, mRNA research and manufacturing platform

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At the 2023 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting, Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced new investments to advance access to mRNA research and vaccine manufacturing technology that will support low- and middle-income countries’ (LMICs) capacity to develop high-quality, lifesaving vaccines at scale.

mRNA technology is considered a potential game-changer for a range of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, and Lassa fever, which disproportionately affect people in LMICs. This new technology can significantly lower the costs of mRNA research and manufacturing and enable expanded access—helping to close critical gaps.

The foundation announced a total of $40 million in funding to advance access to Quantoom Biosciences’ low-cost, mRNA research and manufacturing platform, which was developed with an early-research Grand Challenges grant made to its parent company, Univercells. The Institut Pasteur de Dakar (IPD) and Biovac, research institutes with vaccine manufacturing experience based in Senegal and South Africa, respectively, will receive $5 million each to acquire the technology and will be able to use it to develop locally relevant vaccines. To further advance the technology and lower costs for commercialisation, the foundation also will provide $20 million to Quantoom Biosciences, ensuring LMICs can benefit from the next-generation mRNA health tools. The Gates Foundation will grant another $10 million to other LMIC vaccine manufacturers to be named.

The additional funding for Quantoom builds on an initial grant made in 2016 to Univercells in response to a Grand Challenges call for new interventions for vaccine manufacturing. The Univercells proposal focused on developing modular engineering principles that would facilitate decentralised, small-footprint manufacturing of vaccines.

IPD plans to start manufacturing essential measles and rubella vaccines using Univercells’ original vaccine manufacturing technology, expanding the region’s capacity to deliver routine immunisation campaigns.

This new funding builds on the foundation’s previous $55 million investment in mRNA manufacturing technology.

mRNA vaccines have simpler research and manufacturing processes than traditional vaccines, so expanding access to this next-generation technology can help countries like Senegal and South Africa gain autonomy to discover and develop low-cost, high-quality vaccines for diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis that are consistent with their health priorities.

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