Aspen Pharmacare, has announced that it has reached an agreement with American drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to commercially manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in South Africa.

Aspen, South Africa’s largest pharmaceutical company, will also perform formulation, filling and secondary packaging of the vaccine for the U.S. firm, the company said.

Currently, the vaccine candidate is in clinical trials at J&J’s holding facility in Port Elizabeth.

Aspen’s shares rose more than 4% on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on the announcement.

The company said it had invested more than $184.2 million in the Port Elizabeth facility.

“The production area where it is intended that the vaccine candidate will be manufactured has capacity to produce more than 300 million doses per annum,” it added in a statement sent to newsrooms.

South Africa is the continent’s and world’s fifth worst hit nation by the coronavirus pandemic. It has recorded more than 726,000 coronavirus infections and over 19,400 deaths. It is currently hosting at least four clinical trials of potential COVID-19 vaccines, including the J&J candidate.

The agreement between Aspen and J&J is subject to the completion of technology transfer activities and finalisation of certain commercial terms.

Last month South Africa’s Biovac Institute – a joint venture between the government and private sector – said it was in talks to produce some of the vaccines the country needs to protect itself against COVID-19.

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