South Africa may sign a deal to help produce a Covid-19 vaccine, potentially boosting access to immunization on a continent with limited manufacturing capacity.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global organization funding vaccine development, is considering the Cape Town-based Biovac Institute as a fill-finish site, according to Helen Rees, the chair of the organization’s Scientific Advisory Board.

The state vaccine company is one of few in the country that has the capacity to package doses into sterile dispensers if clinical trials are successful.

“What we are looking at is partnerships,” Morena Makhoana, Biovac’s chief executive officer, said in response to questions. “Once that is signed, we will be able to make an announcement.”

A manufacturing agreement will “put Africa on a similar path to other continents, much like the clinical trials are doing,” he said.

South Africa is the only country in Africa that hosts several clinical studies. It has 2,000 people in the AstraZeneca and University of Oxford vaccine trial, while Novavax Inc announced earlier this month it’s starting a Phase 2b clinical trial.

One-fifth of the 60,000 volunteers expected to enroll worldwide in Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine trial will be in South Africa, said Glenda Gray, the chief executive officer of the South African Medical Research Council.

“Covid-19 has really thrown into focus that we have very limited capacity for vaccine manufacturing across the African continent, even in countries like South Africa,” said Rees. “But there’s tremendous interest and we need to have more countries being able to manufacture vaccines.”

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