German drugmaker Merck has partnered with South Africa-based biotechnology company Afrigen Biologics to support the development of an mRNA vaccine technology platform.

The collaboration aims to advance mRNA platform manufacturing capabilities, scaling up production, optimising processes, and providing troubleshooting expertise.

Merck, through its Life Science business, has signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Afrigen Biologics.

Under the MoU, Merck will support Afrigen’s Center of Excellence and training initiatives, intended for building capacity in LMICs to produce mRNA vaccines and therapeutics.

The mRNA technology transfer program is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP).

It is based on a South African consortium establishing and validating an mRNA manufacturing platform at a central site (hub’ and transferring the technology platform to partners.

Merck life science business sector EMEA process solutions commercial head Bert de Vet said: “Leveraging our comprehensive chemical portfolio and custom production capabilities, we offer cutting-edge experience for mRNA manufacturing, ensuring a seamless journey from research to production.

“Our alliance with Afrigen for mRNA technology platform development echoes our commitment to fostering equitable access to life-saving therapies for global health.”

Medicines Patent Pool technology transfer head Ike James said: “Today’s MoU signing between Afrigen and Merck is a clear testament to this shared commitment and a significant step in this journey.”

Afrigen said that the mRNA vaccine tech transfer programme will provide adequate knowledge transfer to help the current 15 participants in the program produce mRNA vaccines at scale.

The programme will also support clinical development, national/regional marketing authorisation and WHO prequalification, and sustainable supply to meet local and regional vaccine demand.

Merck said that it is working to advance mRNA technology by improving regional manufacturing capacity and contributing to global pandemic resilience.

Its comprehensive approach involves mRNA expertise, tech-transfer proficiency, regulatory knowledge, product portfolios, and manufacturing and testing, said the German drugmaker.

Afrigen Biologics CEO Petro Terblanche said: “The mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub is well on its way to create a sustainable mRNA product innovation platform for public health benefit and pandemic preparedness.

“The platform at Afrigen provides access to mRNA technology for 15 partners in LMICs and straddles the entire vaccine value chain from R&D to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) manufacturing.

“Following the launch of the program in 2021, we have successfully developed mRNA vaccine technology R&D and production capabilities. Our progress has been accelerated by Merck’s technical expertise.”