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* Firm to have capacity of 1.3 bln doses/yr by 2024
* Producing 250 million COVID19 vaccines doses/yr
* To ramp up to 300 mln doses/yr by Dec, CEO says
GQEBERHA, South Africa, Oct 25 (Reuters) - South Africa's
Aspen Pharmacare is aiming to ramp up its COVID-19
vaccine manufacturing capacity to 1.3 billion doses a year by
February 2024, up from a current annual output of around 250
million doses, the company's CEO told Reuters on Monday.
Aspen is doing the final stages of manufacturing for Johnson
& Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine under a so-called "fill and
finish" deal, but CEO Stephen Saad said in an interview that the
companies were close to announcing a broader deal for Aspen to
produce J&J's COVID-19 shot under license.
"We have got an absolute commitment to 700 million doses
till February 2023 ... within a year after that, we could get
(to) 1.3 billion doses," Saad said on the sidelines of the
opening of Aspen's anesthetic manufacturing facility at
Gqeberha in eastern South Africa.
The company is currently delivering 250 million doses of the
final packaged versions of J&J's COVID-19 vaccine on an
annualized basis and would reach a capacity of 300 million doses
per year by November or December, Saad said.
Under its contract with J&J it has to supply 31 million
doses to South Africa. It will also supply up to 400 million to
the rest of Africa via an agreement with the African Union.
However, its supplies had been delayed due to a host of
problems related to export of the drug substance to manufacture
the vaccine and a raft of approvals in the United States and
South Africa. It began supplies to South Africa at the end of
Saad had said last month that the company was in talks with
J&J for a licensing arrangement which would give it the right to
not only price the vaccine, but brand it and decide where it is
"We have to get through a lot of technical details. But all
(is) progressing well and we expect to respond shortly. It's not
going to be months and months away."
The South African government had been criticized earlier by
bodies including the World Health Organisation for manufacturing
vaccines in Africa but allowing them to be exported to Europe,
even as the continent lags on vaccination.
Saad hinted the expansion of capacity and the licensing
talks with J&J were to meet African demand.
"1.3 billion people live in the African continent so we
wanted to say 'One Africa, one vaccine' and we want to have that
capability," Saad said.
Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel, who
inaugurated the anesthetic facility, said 100% of the vaccines
produced at Aspen's facility would go to Africa from September.
(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by David Holmes)