COVID-19 vaccine 'golden opportunity' for Chinese companies going overseas

By Zhang Hongpei and Hu Yuwei Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/22 22:02:13

Quality inspectors on Sinovac vaccine production lines use digital technology platforms to monitor the quality and efficiency of vaccine packaging on Sunday. Photos: Li Hao/GT

As the world holds high hopes for a vaccine to emerge amid the pandemic, global biological and drug firms are racing on research and development (R&D) efforts and rolling out their products as early as possible, and the participation of Chinese firms in the process provides a golden opportunity for their internationalization, experts said.

The latest move came as Shanghai-based WuXi Biologics, a global company with open-access biologics technology platforms, said on Monday that it will take over and operate the Drug Substance (DS) facility at Bayer's Wuppertal site for COVID-19 vaccine production. The facility will enhance the Chinese company's global network to supply COVID-19 vaccines and other biologics, according to a press release.

The transaction, worth about 150 million euros ($183 million), which is still subject to regulatory approval, is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

More countries have shown great interest in China-developed vaccines in recent months and placed orders with the Chinese producers.

Du Heng, senior program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said that "the COVID-19 pandemic has, to some extent, stimulated the R&D and production capabilities of domestic companies."

The scale of phase III clinical trials conducted by Chinese companies abroad is unprecedented in terms of the number of people involved and coordinating countries, which is something that "our firms have never experienced," Du said. 

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said recently it had certified Good Manufacturing Practices for CoronaVac, the coronavirus vaccine candidate produced by China's Sinovac Biotech, which is being tested in Brazil, according to media reports.

Other countries, including Indonesia and Turkey, have placed orders with Sinovac.

Separately, a COVID-19 vaccine produced by another Chinese firm Sinopharm was approved by the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.

"In terms of capability, Chinese firms have built up huge potential in the past two or three decades, but they are just one small step away," Du said.

If it can be said that the COVID-19 vaccine has taken up half of that small step, then for the rest, more effort is still needed, she added.

In closely working with multiple overseas partners on phase III clinical trials, some Chinese vaccine manufacturers have exposed the shortcomings of their experience in international cooperation, said Zheng Zhongwei, director of the Development Center for Medical Science and Technology of the National Health Commission (NHC), at a press conference on Monday.

Many industry insiders have suggested that exports of Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccines would mark the globalization of Chinese vaccine manufacturers. Up until now, the vast majority of Chinese vaccine manufacturers have focused on satisfying the domestic market.

In the global layout of phase III clinical trials, US giants have demonstrated more extensive resource organization and coordination capacity, which is one of the reasons for faster results in phase III clinical trials, said Xin Chunlin, the senior director of the New Technology Department at CanSino Biologics, a Chinese vaccine manufacturer that has started the world's first phase III trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Only in this pandemic has China found a mission in vaccine cooperation, and this is one of the precious opportunities for China to lead in vaccine R&D, Xin said at a vaccine forum on Saturday.



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