BioNTech has secured a funding commitment of up to $145m from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to strengthen Africa’s mRNA vaccine ecosystem.

The Germany-based vaccine manufacturer will use the funds to set up mRNA vaccine research and development (R&D), and clinical and commercial-scale manufacturing capabilities at its existing facility in Kigali, Rwanda.

These capacities are expected to aid in enhancing readiness for potential future epidemic and pandemic challenges in Africa by building a sustainable and resilient end-to-end ecosystem.

The latest funding follows the funding of up to $90m that the coalition granted BioNTech in September last year to develop mpox vaccine candidates.

CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett said: “Through our joint commitment to equitable access, CEPI’s investment in BioNTech’s forward-looking efforts in Africa will boost regional capacity for end-to-end research, development and rapid manufacturing of mRNA vaccines.

“This will contribute to Africa’s resilience and pandemic readiness and could dramatically alter the course of future outbreaks.”

First announced in 2021, BioNTech’s Kigali manufacturing plant was officially opened last December.

The site is based on the company’s modular manufacturing units called BioNTainers. These units are digitally enabled and designed to produce various mRNA-based vaccines.

Under the agreement, BioNTech and CEPI have agreed to ensure the affordable availability of the former’s preventative vaccines produced at the Kigali facility.

These vaccines, targeting diseases like malaria, smallpox, and tuberculosis, are intended for distribution to low and middle-income countries.

The African nations will be given priority access, subject to successful development and authorization of the vaccines, said BioNTech.

Furthermore, BioNTech and CEPI plan to collaborate closely to address outbreaks caused by known viral threats or emerging pathogens with epidemic or pandemic potential on the African continent.

BioNTech CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin said: “Our joint efforts are strengthening the implementation of a local mRNA vaccine ecosystem – covering the entire spectrum from research and clinical trials to commercial production.

“This, along with our continued efforts to develop mRNA vaccines against diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, and mpox is aimed at bringing lasting health benefits to millions of people in Africa.”

Concurrently, CEPI awarded $6.5m to Bavarian Nordic to advance the development of mpox vaccine for children in Africa.

The funds will be used to support a Phase 2 trial evaluating the MVA-BN non-replicating vaccine.

The study will assess the immunogenicity and safety of the vaccine in children for the prevention of smallpox, mpox, and related orthopoxvirus infections.