a young nurse standing with stethoscope at the neck and catches her head.

Pharmaceutical company Moderna announced on 7 March 2022 that it would develop a site in Kenya to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. The company holds much of the key intellectual property relating to the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. Due to their higher efficacy, mRNA vaccines are the preferred option in developed countries. They account for 92% of all vaccinations to date in the US and European Union.

Moderna’s decision to continue making the vaccine itself, though on the Kenyan site, is a signal that the company (at least for the moment) is not considering licensing its technology to a third party for local manufacture. In this way, the company keeps closer control over who has full knowledge of, and is able to use productively, its technology. Licensing is an arrangement which has lower cost but greater vulnerabilities for licensors.

The decision is significant for the mRNA Technology Transfer Hub in Cape Town, South Africa. The hub was established in June 2021 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other parties. The idea was to develop a mRNA vaccine manufacturing technology platform. This would initially be for COVID-19, but eventually for a range of infectious diseases including TB and HIV.

Once the platform has been fully developed and tested in Cape Town, it will facilitate technology transfer to at least 12 low- and middle-income countries. This will considerably expand global mRNA manufacturing capacity.

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