Vaccine: SA expat Dr Soon-Shiong launches R3 billion initiative

SA born billionaire and former local physician Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has announced an investment of R3 billion to advance vaccine research.

Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong founder and CEO of NantWorks.

Wits University alumnus and South African-born biotech billionaire, Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong‘s dream has come true with the launch a R3-billion initiative to build advanced health care and vaccine capacity in Africa.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and NantAfrica, a division of NantWorks, recently announced the ambitious initiative which will entail a partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

Soon-Shiong is founder and CEO of NantWorks, a multinational, California-based conglomerate leading the digital revolution in healthcare, technology and media through the harnessing of science, digital infrastructure, supercomputing and communication.

NantWorks LLC has signed a collaboration agreement with the CSIR and the SAMRC that will initiate the transfer of biologic manufacturing technology for COVID-19 and cancer vaccines and next-generation cell-based immunotherapies. This will enable the rapid clinical development of next generation vaccines for infectious diseases and cancer at centres of excellence across the country.

'It has been a dream of mine, since I left the country as a young physician, to bring state-of-the-art, 21st century medical care to South Africa and to enable the country to serve as a scientific hub for the continent,' Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder and CEO of NantWorks said.

There is such an unmet need to treat life-threatening infectious diseases such as AIDS, TB and now COVID-19. Of equal concern is the poor survival rate of patients suffering from cancer in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. The astounding advances in science have enabled new paradigms of care involving activating the immune system and changing outcomes for these diseases.'

'We are privileged to have the opportunity to bring 30 years of clinical, scientific and advanced biological know-how to the country and establish much needed capacity and self-sufficiency,' he said.

The partnership between NantWorks, the CSIR and the SAMRC will expand manufacturing of biologics, immunotherapeutics and vaccines in South Africa through technology transfer and state-of-the art advanced manufacturing facilities.

NantAfrica, a division of NantWorks was created to coordinate the initiative, and the CSIR will implement state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing capacity to expedite transfer of COVID-19 and cancer vaccine biologics within the next three months and scale up capacity for Africa by 2022. The launch of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) in collaboration with the SAMRC and Universities of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal, in tandem with the partnership, will enhance rapid genomic surveillance of and response to viral mutations occurring in Africa.

The launch of clinical centres of excellence for the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, HIV/AIDS and TB, will be established through a collaboration with the SAMRC and Universities of Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal

NantWorks has entered into agreements to invest in large-scale manufacturing facilities and a biologics manufacturing campus in the Western Cape and will begin transfer of technology, know-how and materials for DNA, RNA, adjuvant vaccine platforms and cell therapy in the next three months in partnership with the CSIR and SAMRC.

President Ramaphosa welcomed this significant investment and the commitment of Dr. Soon-Shiong to his birthplace.

'It was a homecoming moment when I met Dr. Soon-Shiong and we saw an opportunity to strengthen our scientific and technological capacity; an opportunity to address the public health challenges experienced in South Africa and the continent and leapfrog to cutting edge technology. This technology transfer, including manufacturing biologics, will reinforce vaccine equity sorely needed globally.'

This initiative will build on existing capacities and expertise within South Africa. An extensive network of collaboration has now been established with Dr. Soon-Shiong’s NantWorks and NantAfrica entities to build capacity and a knowledge base in South Africa; to expedite the development of 21st century immunotherapy for cancer and infectious disease, and to position South Africa as a science and medicine hub of innovation for all of Africa.

CSIR Chief Executive Officer Dr Thulani Dlamini said: 'The CSIR is about improving the quality of life of the people of South Africa. However, the impact of our work extends beyond the borders of South Africa.'

We achieve socio-economic transformation through collaboratively innovating and localising technologies. The CSIR has a multidisciplinary capability that supports selected focus areas in the South African economy. Health and manufacturing are two such priority areas – areas that we believe are imperative to invest in to overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Professor Glenda E. Gray, President and Chief Executive Officer of the SAMRC said the council’s mission was to fund and conduct research that impacts lives.

'SAMRC has partnered with Dr. Soon-Shiong in launching COVID-19 clinical trials in South Africa and look forward to the development of next-generation vaccines and centres of excellence for patients with infectious diseases and cancer. This collaboration will increase resources and opportunities to do just that. Cancer and Infectious Disease contribute substantially to the burden of disease in our country. Finding innovative ways to curb mortality is critical to the health of our nation,' she said.

NantWorks and its affiliates have initiated a clinical Phase 1 / 2 / 3 COVID-19 T cell vaccine booster trial in healthcare workers in Cape Town. A second Phase 1 / 2 COVID-19 T cell vaccine trial will be initiated to evaluate the first heterologous RNA + DNA T cell vaccine This heterologous vaccine has been shown to neutralize the beta and delta variants of the SARS-COV-2 virus in pre-clinical studies.

Prof Tulio de Oliviera, founding director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) and professor at the Universities of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal, said: 'CERI, established with the support of the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, will allow genomics technologies to be used in real time to trace and respond to epidemics and pandemics in Africa. We are really excited to partner with Dr Soon-Shiong to set up the large genomics facility on the African continent.'

University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Shabir Madhi, said the university was 'honoured' to partner with Nantworks 'to advance the research and clinical development of vaccines, and training and technological innovation in oncology, infectious diseases, immunology, molecular medicine, and related disciplines, in Africa.'

Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal said: 'We look forward to this collaboration as it speaks directly to the priorities of Wits University as we approach our centenary – to improve healthcare using the latest technology and innovation, to benefit broader society, and to advance the public good.

'This relationship is particularly special, as both Patrick Soon-Shiong and his wife Michele are Wits alumni, who met on our campus. We look forward to working with the team to conduct research at the frontiers of science, that addresses the pressing challenges of the 21st Century, and that ultimately advances better healthcare for humanity.'

News date: 2021-09-27


KRISP has been created by the coordinated effort of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the South African Medical Research Countil (SAMRC).

Location: K-RITH Tower Building
Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN
719 Umbilo Road, Durban, South Africa.
Director: Prof. Tulio de Oliveira