Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong brings 21st-century medical care to SA

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Significant developments are heading to South Africa, with President Cyril Ramaphosa hailing a new COVID-19 and cancer vaccine initiative. 

Launched by world-renowned healthcare extraordinaire Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong. The initiative has been hailed as a game-changer for the country’s healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

Launched by Dr Soon-Shiong’s digital healthcare company NantWorks. The vaccine program aims to build pharmaceutical and vaccine capacity not only in South Africa but also for the entire African continent.

This will kickstart the transfer technology used to manufacture COVID-19 and cancer vaccines and next-generation cell-based immunotherapies.

The President stated, “The investment by NantWorks is most timely. For our fight against COVID-19, for infectious disease management, for cancer research and treatment, and for future pandemic preparedness.”

The initiative is a collaboration between NantWorks’ African division NantAfrica, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

Furthermore, South African born Dr Soon-Shiong left the country during Apartheid. Yet said the initiative is the realisation of a lifelong ambition.

“It has been a dream of mine, since I left the country as a young physician, to bring state-of-the-art, 21st-century medical care to South Africa and to enable the country to serve as a scientific hub for the continent.”

Dr Soon-Shiong adds that there is an unmet need to treat life-threatening infectious diseases such as AIDS, TB and now COVID-19. Of equal concern, the doctor adds, is the poor survival rate of patients who have cancer in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa.

“The astounding advances in science have enabled new paradigms of care involving activating the immune system and changing outcomes for these diseases,” said Dr Soon-Shiong.

The multi-layered collaboration will give rise to:

  • The implementation of state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing capacity to expedite the transfer of COVID-19 and cancer vaccine biologics between CSIR and NantAfrica.
  • The launch of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) with the help of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu Natal universities will enhance rapid genomic surveillance of and response to viral mutations occurring in Africa.
  • The launch of Clinical Centres of Excellence for the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, HIV/AIDS and TB, with the help of Wits University and the universities of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu Natal.

President Ramaphosa highlighted that the initiative would boost the country’s healthcare sector as South Africa battles the highest COVID-19 caseload in Africa. Plus, the largest number of people living with HIV and AIDS, and a “massive” Tuberculosis problem.

Looking at the situation, Ramaphosa said, “We do have current treatment programmes for all of these, but COVID-19 has brought new challenges, not least of all resource constraints. The setting up clinical centres of excellence will contribute to quality improvement in managing these other diseases. I have no doubt that this collaboration will place South Africa, and Africa as a whole at the cutting edge of healthcare, science, technology and innovation.”

As preparations are fully underway, Prof Tulio de Oliviera, Founding Director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) and professor at the Universities of Stellenbosch and KwaZulu-Natal, said, “CERI, established with the support of the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, will allow genomics technologies to be used in real-time to trace and respond to epidemics and pandemics in Africa. We are really excited to partner with Dr Soon-Shiong to set up the large genomics facility on the African continent.” 

Moreover, she is enthused that Stellenbosch University is excited about playing a leading role in this critical and ground-breaking COVID-19 and cancer initiative.

Prof de Olivera said, “Building on research excellence via its DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research and African Cancer Institute, among others, the University is well-poised to make a meaningful contribution to the initiative.”

The collaboration is the third investment into the country’s pharmaceutical sector, following the R10 billion investment into Aspen Pharmacare for the production of Africa’s COVID-19 vaccines and the World Health Organisation’s establishment of the mRNA manufacturing hub in the country.

As the initiative is to change the healthcare sector exponentially, what are your thoughts on the matter? Share your views in the comment section below.

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