Aspen Pharmacare, a South African drug maker, announced on Tuesday that it was finalizing a deal with Johnson & Johnson to control production of COVID-19 vaccine in Africa.
“With reference to the cautionary announcement dated 29 November 2021, Aspen is pleased to confirm that one of its wholly owned South African subsidiaries, Aspen SA Operations (Pty) Limited (“Aspen SA”), has confirmed a non-binding term sheet with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, two of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (“Johnson & Johnson”), that will form the basis for negotiation of a definitive agreement on the manufacture and sale of an Aspen branded COVID-19 vaccine throughout Africa,” Aspen Pharmacare said in a statement.
It added that the agreement would expand the existing technical transfer and manufacturing agreements between the parties “to grant Aspen SA the rights to manufacture finished SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 vaccine product from drug substance supplied by Johnson & Johnson; and sell the finished form vaccine under Aspen branding to public sector markets in Africa through transactions with designated multilateral organizations and with national governments of member states of the African Union.”
In addition, Johnson & Johnson would grant Aspen a license to the enabling intellectual property for this purpose. Aspen SA plans to launch this vaccine under the brand name “Aspenovax”.
Aspen already bottles the Johnson & Johnson vaccine under a previous agreement, but as a contract manufacturer, it has had no say on where to ship the doses, noted The New York Times.
The publication added that “control over the intellectual property of Covid vaccines has become a point of increasing contention in the debate over how best to address the huge gap in vaccine access across African nations.”
“Earlier this year, millions of doses bottled at Aspen’s plant in the city of Gqeberha were exported to other parts of the world at a time when many African countries had vaccinated fewer than 5 percent of their citizens. The arrangement generated harsh criticism after it was revealed by The New York Times, and the new agreement could avert a similar situation in the future,” The Times added.
The African Union Special Envoy on COVID-19, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, has said that getting to 70 percent vaccination coverage in Africa would require 900 million doses of vaccines.