Catalysing academic partnerships for sustainable local manufacturing of vaccines and biologics
The Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) aims to domestically produce at least 60% of the continent's vaccine demand by 2040. Achieving this ambitious goal demands substantial long-term investments, the establishment of a stable, sustainable ecosystem across the manufacturing supply chain, and above all, talent development.
To cultivate a skilled biomanufacturing workforce in Africa, partnerships will be essential, particularly between universities and life sciences companies on the continent as well as globally. These collaborations are the bridges that will help transfer cutting-edge biotechnology knowledge, practical skills, and industry insights to the continent.
Training the workforce of our partners is a core part of our business and at the heart of Unizima and Univercells’ mission. Unizima launched the University Partnership Program earlier this year on behalf of Univercells Group and is facilitating global and cross-continental links between different universities. Our inaugural initiative brings together Senegal's Cheikh Anta Diop University, the University of Rwanda, the Amadou Mathar Mbow University of Diamniadio (Senegal), the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and Univercells group. The goal of this partnership is to provide students with hands-on experience on the latest technologies in biomanufacturing in an industrial environment.
The first cohort of students completed their placements in bioinformatics in August at our sister affiliate Quantoom Biosciences‘ laboratories, with academic supervision from Université Libre de Bruxelles.
For Khadidiatou Diop, a graduate in Process Engineering from Senegal, and one of the members of the inaugural cohort, this internship was an invaluable opportunity. Khadidiatou arrived in Belgium in March, with a keen interest in understanding everything from DNA sequencing to the preparation of messenger RNA valves for vaccine production. Khadidiatou believes that the future lies in bringing biotechnology knowledge to her country. “We need to bring this knowledge to my country, to enable advancements in vaccine production. The technological advances really impressed me because they were very new for me”.
Similarly, her fellow intern, Mariama Doucoure, initially drawn to physics and mathematics, experienced an epiphany during the program. She now views biology as a fascinating field and is committed to learning about gene extraction, sequencing, and vaccine production. Mariama's dedication has earned her a place at Liege University, where she will pursue a Master's in civil engineering, focusing on Chemical and Composite Sciences, starting in September.
These student experiences illustrate the transformative power of international partnerships to realise the vision of sustainable, local manufacturing. By aligning university education with the goals of PAVM, we are preparing the next generation of biomanufacturing experts, fostering global citizenship and equipping young leaders to tackle healthcare challenges in their home countries. These initiatives are vital for driving innovation and bringing about lasting change in global health and equity.
We are thankful for the funding provided by Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles (WBI) to support this initiative and to Dr. Matthieu Defrance, Associate Professor at Université Libre de Bruxelles for his academic mentorship. The second cohort of students started at Quantoom Biosciences in September. Stay tuned for more updates on their experience.