Wits University has partnered with Cape Town-based bio-pharmaceutical company Biovac to develop skills to produce viral vectored vaccines in South Africa. Picture: AFP
Wits University has partnered with Cape Town-based bio-pharmaceutical company Biovac to develop skills to produce viral vectored vaccines in South Africa. Picture: AFP

Wits partners with Biovac to develop skills that will help in producing vaccines

By Chulumanco Mahamba Time of article published Mar 10, 2021

Share this article:

Johannesburg - Wits University has partnered with Cape Town-based bio-pharmaceutical company Biovac to develop skills to produce viral vectored vaccines in South Africa.

Wits University’s Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit (AGTRU), via Wits Enterprise, has joined with Cape Town-based bio-pharmaceutical company Biovac in partnership to develop the skills capacity to produce viral vectored vaccines.

AGTRU has specialised expertise in advancing gene therapy for viral infections. Viruses can be genetically engineered for gene therapy to treat genetic diseases, viral infections, develop vaccines and boost immunity.

“Our team’s ability to engineer, propagate, purify and assay the engineered viruses is a highly specialised technology. To the best of our knowledge, the Wits-South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) facility is the only one with expertise in this technology in the country, and perhaps the continent,” said Professor Patrick Arbuthnot, director of AGTRU.

The university said that viral vector-based vaccines are different from most conventional vaccines in that they use the body’s cells to produce antigens.

Arbuthnot said the genetic material of the virus, DNA in the case of adenoviruses, is modified by removing some of the viral genes.

“These are replaced with the DNA coding of an immunity-causing protein, such as the spike protein of the SAR-CoV-2 that causes Covid-19. The virus itself is harmless and by stimulating cells to produce antigens can safely promote an immune response,” he said.

As a safety precaution, engineered viruses are replication-incompetent. “This means that they cannot produce new viruses in a person receiving the vaccine, and they can only proliferate in a laboratory-controlled setting where the deficiencies of the engineered virus are complemented in the cells producing the virus,” Arbuthnot said. “We have confidence that the collaboration will facilitate an enhanced capability and readiness for future production of active pharmaceutical ingredients or drug substances for vaccines targeted at viruses such as SAR-CoV-2 in South Africa.”

If successful, it would be a good example of how leveraging South African partnerships to tap into specialist resources can address SA’s preparedness for future disease outbreaks. It will also be an endorsement of the government’s investment in basic research in South Africa,” Arbuthnot added.

Biovac chief executive Dr Morena Makhoana said: “South Africa desperately needs to build capability to manufacture viral vaccines from scratch rather than importing the API (active pharmaceutical ingredient). Biovac has built capability in formulation and filing of vaccines, and this partnership, utilising the skills transfer from Wits, is an excellent start to building the know-how to produce viral vectored vaccines,” Makhoana said.

The Star

Share this article: