South Africa
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Aspen licensing deal secures supply of J&J vaccines to Africa

Aspen Pharmacare has signed a deal to license Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine in SA, opening the way for increased supply of vaccines to Africa.

Under the terms of the deal, Aspen and Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, two of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of J&J, are close to finalising a “definitive agreement” for the Gqeberha-based pharmaceutical company to manufacture and sell an Aspen-branded Covid-19 vaccine throughout Africa, the company said on Tuesday. 

“This [deal] gives us security of supply which we did not have before,” said Strive Masiyiwa, African Union Special Envoy for Covid and Africa Vaccine African Union Special Envoy for Covid and Africa Vaccine.

“Today I am so pleased we can say production of this vaccine under licence, like they do in India, has begun.”

Masiyiwa called on Aspen and J&J to complete the commitment to allow the SA firm to produce the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) locally within the next two years.

Meanwhile, pharma companies, scientists and healthcare professionals were engaged in a race against time to determine whether current vaccines were effective against the new Omicron variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

On Tuesday, global stock markets slumped in the wake of comments by the CEO of US drugmaker Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, that existing vaccines are likely to be be less effective against Omicron than against the Delta variant. 

Bancel told the Financial Times vaccine manufacturers could struggle to target the Omicron variant and earlier variants of the virus.

However, Adrian Thomas, J&J's vice president global public health, said current vaccines had provided “very good coverage” against the new variant.

“All the manufacturers are rapidly assessing this and we’re already working on tweaking the vaccine,” he said.


The vaccine, called Aspenovax, will be manufactured from drug substance supplied by J&J and sold to public sector markets in Africa.

Noting that Africa’s response to the pandemic had been hampered by vaccine inequality as rich countries cornered much of the vaccine supply as it became available, Aspen group chief executive Dr Stephen Saad said the licensing deal was “a game-changer”.

“[It] gives you independence and speed of access to intellectual property,” he said, adding Aspen would gain the autonomy of releasing the vaccine and determining where it goes.

It would also partly resolve intellectual property (IP) issues which have been widely seen as a stumbling block to making vaccines available to poorer countries.

“We’ve seen a lot of issues around IP and IP waivers and this obviates a lot of those hurdles relating to IP,” he said.

“Because it’s a tech transfer, it’s a more efficient process for early entry.”

Saad would not comment on pricing, except to say Aspen intended to be competitive.

The deal also paved the way for major vaccine buyers such as the Gavi Alliance, formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, to buy vaccines from Africa, Masiyiwa said.

“Unless people like Gavi step forward and begin to talk to African industrialists like Aspen to produce vaccine, we will not deal with the problem Africa found itself in, which was to be pushed to the back of the queue.”