Walter Sisulu University and North West University have announced that they are at advanced stages of producing a new Covid-19 vaccine for the African continent which will address unequal access.
In a joint statement this week, the universities announced “very promising first results” from pre-clinical trials on a new Covid -19 vaccine candidate.
New Covid-19 vaccine for Africa
Germany-based Professor Markus Depfenhart, who holds appointments as professor at both universities, developed the DNA vaccine candidate. The trials, which are being conducted at the Pre-Clinical Drug Development Platform at the NWU, are well advanced and promising, the universities said in a joint statement. The trial and the analysis will continue over the following weeks.
Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the NWU Professor Awie Kotzé said: “We express our special appreciation to Prof Depfenhart, who has had to lead this project from Hamburg, Germany, because of the extended Covid travel restrictions. He has a big impact on our two universities. He is a driving force in bringing together a new Pan-African, multi-national platform around vaccines and epidemic responses in Africa, by Africa, for Africa.”
Kotzé thanked Depfenhart and the collaborative team for their work on the project and expressed his trust that it would be the first of many collaborative projects with WSU.
Inequalities and poverty
DNA vaccines are relatively inexpensive and straightforward to manufacture, can be adjusted quickly to address mutations, and offer a simple yet effective means of inducing broad-based immunity, the universities said.
Chairperson of the WSU Council, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, has also thrown his weight behind the initiative.
“The impact of Covid-19 has been devastating to the world. For Africa and the developing world, inequalities, poverty, and deprivation have worsened. Unequal access to the vaccine has also highlighted these global inequities. Africa, then, finds itself, perhaps once again, having to rely on its own intellectual capital to navigate its way through the global crisis,” he said.
“In this context, words cannot describe how exceedingly pleased I am, not only at the promising results of the animal trials, but at the idea that WSU is at the cutting edge of scientific innovation. It is hoped that the promising results of this trial will not be limited to WSU and NWU, but will carry significance for other African universities and the developing world as a whole.”
Covid-19 vaccine: ‘Strong collaboration’
WSI Vice Chancellor and Principal Rushiella Songca said they were excited about the developments.
“We look forward to a strong future collaboration resulting from this initiative and strengthening bonds in the Pan-African research and innovation community. We can no longer afford to work in isolation from one another on the continent – we need links and partnerships to grow and succeed,” said Songca.
NWU Principal and Vice Chancellor Dan Kgwadi, said: “We are very excited by this milestone that the NWU-WSU partnership has achieved. We look forward to working with more institutions in South Africa and across our continent to ensure efficient and effective responses to pandemics and other health challenges.”