Mr. Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, formally opened a cutting-edge viral vector manufacturing facility in Jumet (Charleroi). The facility is run by Exothera, part of Univercells, a Belgian biotech company dedicated to ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to biologics.
Supported by the European Investment Bank, and completed in only 18 months, Univercells rapidly constructed the large-scale facility – now consisting of one of Europe's largest state-of-the-art facilities ready to welcome customers for clinical and commercial production. The new facility demonstrates that Exothera, as part of Univercells, has the capability to produce cutting-edge biologics of the highest quality and further underlines the great strength of the Belgian biopharma industry. This new facility is a significant milestone for Univercells, but also for the Prime Minister’s vision of Belgium as a global biopharma hub. Univercells, as part of the Belgian biotech ecosystem, is tackling two of the most critical challenges manufacturers face in bringing advanced therapies to market – a lack of production capacity and scarcity of bioprocessing expertise.
Viral vectors are a category of pharmaceutical that includes many types of drugs and vaccines, including many established vaccines for COVID-19. The new facility will produce biologics in Belgium but also support the development of new vaccine manufacturing sites in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). At present, only 1% of vaccines used for routine childhood immunisations in Africa are produced on the continent and only 6% of people in the lowest income countries are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to over 50% worldwide.
Whilst showing Prime Minister De Croo and Minister Meryame Kitir, Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation and Urban Policy and Thomas Dermine, State Secretary for Economic Recovery and Strategic Investments, around the facility, Hugues Bultot, Co-founder and CEO of Univercells, outlined the broader efforts that the company is making to ensure access to life-saving medicines in LMICs, including through a collaboration in Ghana. Univercells will provide a wide-range of services from assistance with training the local workforce through to operational support, as part of its end-to-end capability to support partners in LMICs trying to build vaccine manufacturing facilities. Univercells is also collaborating with the Institut Pasteur de Dakar (IPD) on the MADIBA Project, a multi-partner initiative with backing from Team Europe among others, to build a vaccine manufacturing facility in Senegal.
The delegation also discussed Belgium’s commitments to the COVAX facility, an emergency mechanism designed to support LMICs to access COVID-19 vaccines, the role of CEPI in building resilience against future pandemics, and the role that Univercells can play in supporting Prime Minister De Croo’s efforts to further strengthen Belgium’s role as a global bioproduction hub.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said: “Univercells is deeply entrenched in Belgium's rich biopharmaceutical ecosystem and is a prime example of a company that exports our very own know-how abroad, facilitating the production of vaccines at lower costs, particularly in Africa. Progress, and Belgian success, are even more beautiful when they benefit everyone.”
Hugues Bultot, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Univercells Group said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the current model of pharmaceutical production has failed. We cannot continue to rely on a system where the supply of life-saving medicines to billions of people is contingent on donations and goodwill purely because of where they live. The only solution is for countries to have the ability to produce the drugs and vaccines that they need themselves. We are committed to supporting countries do exactly that, and delighted to have the support of Prime Minister De Croo in this effort.”
Jose Castillo, Chief Executive Officer of Quantoom Biosciences and co-founder of Univercells said: “The opening of this facility is a key milestone for Univercells. Not only does it enhance our ability to manufacture cutting-edge products here, in Jumet, but it also demonstrates to our partners around the world that the sites we are building with them will be truly first-in-class, meeting the most exacting standards in our industry. We thank the Prime Minister, Minister Kitir, Secretary Dermine and all our other partners for their support.”