Flash Briefing: SA born biotech billionaire injects billions into WC vaccine production; Facebook bosses to appear in SA

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  • South African-American biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong has committed an initial R3 billion to help build out South Africa’s capabilities to produce Covid-19 vaccines, reports Mybroadband.co.za. This comes after Deputy President David Mabuza in March said that government was in discussion with Soon-Shiong’s ImmunityBio on a vaccine production contract. As part of the project, ImmunityBio has been conducting clinical trials of its Covid-19 second-generation vaccine candidate in the US and South Africa. It aims to produce this vaccine in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape. During an online World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting on Wednesday, Soon-Shiong said his company would bring its technologies and expertise to South Africa to enable vaccine production capabilities. Soon-Shiong is the inventor of Abraxane, a drug which is highly regarded for its efficacy in the treatment of lung, breast, and pancreatic cancer. He is also the founder of NantHealth, which provides fibre and cloud-based data infrastructure to share healthcare information, and NantWorks, a network of healthcare, biotech, and AI startups. Shoon-Shiong was born in Port Elizabeth and obtained his bachelor’s degree in medicine from the University of Witwatersrand before moving to North America where he has built multiple successful pharmaceutical and healthcare companies.
  • South Africa’s Department of Health said that while Covid-19 infections climbed 46% in the last week the country has not yet reached a “resurgence threshold”, says Bloomberg. Cases are rising fastest in the Northern Cape and Gauteng provinces, the department said in a statement on Wednesday. While deaths rose 18% in the week the number of hospitalisations has not increased, it said. “We have not yet hit the third wave however we are at risk,” the department said. South Africa is the worst-affected nation on the continent by the coronavirus, with about 1.6 million infections and 55,000 deaths.
  • The South African Medical Research Council has produced a report into excess deaths over the past year suggests more than 133,000 people in the country have died from Covid-19, far more than the official tally of nearly 55,000, says Reuters.
  • South Africa’s Absa expects a 10-fold profit jump for the six months to June 30, it said on Thursday, citing cost controls and reduced bad debts, says Reuters. The bank reported headline earnings per share, the country’s main profit measure, of 67.7 cents in the same period last year. One of South Africa’s top four banks, Absa is bouncing back from hefty provisions taken last year due to the pandemic. South Africa’s biggest food producer Tiger Brands said on Thursday it expects its half-year profits to rise by up to 55% versus a year earlier, says the news service.
  • Facebook has been called to appear before South Africa’s Parliament this month to explain what it is doing about “harmful misinformation” spreading on its platform, marking the first time the social media giant has appeared before lawmakers in Africa, says Forbes magazine. The publication quotes opposition MP Phumzile Van Damme saying Facebook will appear before the Communications and Digital Technologies Committee on 25 May 2021. “Facebook’s agreement to the meeting is historic and a source of pride for South Africa as a first in Africa, and one of a few countries in the world to successfully secure a meeting with Facebook. We commend Facebook for agreeing to the meeting which we hope will be constructive,” Van Damme told Toby Shapshak, publisher of Stuff and Forbes contributor. “The reason for inviting Facebook was with the view of ascertaining what steps the tech giant will be taking in tackling harmful misinformation, particularly as we inch towards the 2021 Local Government Election. Facebook often tailors plans for countries ahead of elections to guard against harmful misinformation. We would like to see the same done for South Africa,” she added.

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