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UPDATE 1-South Africa's Aspen in advanced talks over COVID-19 vaccine deal

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(Adds context, quote)

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Aspen Pharmacare is in advanced discussions over a potential licensing agreement to package the COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa, it said on Monday.

The South African company did not mention the name of the company with which it was in talks, but in early September it said it was in talks with U.S. pharma giant Johnson & Johnson over a vaccine packaging licence.

Aspen currently packages J&J's COVID-19 vaccine at its South African plant under contract, which means it does not have any pricing or distribution power over the product.

The company currently produces 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses annually under its J&J contract, which are then supplied across Africa. It plans to ramp up capacity to 1.3 billion doses by February 2024, Chief Executive Stephen Saad told Reuters in October.

Aspen has not said how many doses from that 1.3 billion would be produced under licence were it to secure such a deal with J&J.

Aspen is in "advanced discussions in relation to the possible conclusion of a licensing agreement to allow it to produce and sell a COVID-19 vaccine in Africa", a company statement said. (Reporting by Promit Mukherjee Editing by David Goodman)

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