China receives first batch of Pfizer pills, domestic oral candidate may be ‘approved in months’
Published: Mar 18, 2022 08:55 PM Updated: Mar 19, 2022 01:09 AM


China received a first batch of 21,200 boxes of Pfizer's COVID-19 drug on Thursday night amid nationwide Omicron outbreaks while. On the same day, five Chinese companies were given the green light to produce a generic version of the effective compound in the pill, nirmatrelvir. These positive improvements along with Chinese authorities' efforts to facilitate the process for drug approval are not only helping the country to put into use its own oral drug - likely in a few months - but helping the world put the pandemic under control and resume international exchanges as soon as possible.     

The first batch of Pfizer's pills are being sent to Omicron-hit Chinese cities to help them combat the latest outbreak, media reported Friday citing Shanghai customs. 

It is the first batch of the Pfizer pill arriving in China after being included in the country's latest COVID-19 playbook. Shanghai customs told media that they set up a green channel for the pills to guarantee convenient clearance.

Liu Lili, a manager from the China Meheco Corp., told media that more batches of the Pfizer COVID-19 drug would enter China for the country's fight against the virus. China Meheco is the exclusive distributor of the Pfizer pill in China.

As COVID-19 cases sprouted in several Chinese cities, Chinese drug companies are also accelerating the development of more effective vaccines and medicines against COVID-19. China's National Medical Products Administration also announced on Tuesday that it is accelerating the approval process of COVID-19 medicines. 

Shanghai Junshi Biosciences announced on Wednesday that it had dosed the first subject in the Phase III clinical trial of an investigational drug, VV116, to treat moderate-to-severe COVID-19 patients. 

The company also released the first report of clinical trials on China-developed oral COVID-19 drugs on the same day. The report says VV116 exhibited satisfactory safety and tolerability in healthy subjects.  

VV116 was first approved for clinical trials in Uzbekistan and allowed to be used in the treatment of moderate to severe COVID-19 patients in the country in late 2021. 

Some experts expect VV116 to be the first China-developed oral molecule drug to get approval for emergency use in China to help the country resume international exchanges as soon as possible. A Beijing-based immunologist expects it be approved in a few months.

While accelerating procedures to make more effective COVID-19 drugs available to domestic people, the country is also expanding global access to cheap and effective medicines as five Chinese companies were granted licenses to produce the generic version of Pfizer's oral COVID-19 treatment, nirmatrelvir, for developing countries, according to an announcement of the UN-backed public health organization Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) on Thursday. 

The five pharmaceutical companies are Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical, Apeloa Pharmaceutical, Fosun Pharma, Zhejiang Jiuzhou Pharmaceutical, Shanghai Desano Pharmaceuticals, among which Jiuzhou will focus on producing the drug substance, while the others will produce both the drug substance and finished product.

MPP granted a total of 35 companies around the world. Their products would be supplied to 95 low- and middle-income countries, covering 53 percent of the world's population, according to the organization. China was not included in the 95 countries.

Wu Yifang, Chairman and CEO of Fosun Pharma, said in a statement sent to the Global Times that the company is pleased to reach an agreement with the MPP to contribute to jointly improving global access to COVID-19 medicines.

Chinese experts agree that a high vaccination rate, enough effective drugs and a complete anti-epidemic mechanism would be vital preconditions for the world to put the pandemic under control and resume international exchanges as soon as possible. But they noted that it would be quite long before we could deal with the novel coronavirus conveniently like how we deal with the flu.   

The good news is Chinese authorities are trying their best to make full preparations to make that day come true as soon as possible.

More than 1.24 billion Chinese, or 87.85 percent of China's total population, have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 as of Thursday, and nearly 645 million have accepted booster shots, Zeng Yixin, the deputy director of Chinese National Health Commission said at a press conference on Friday. 

Zeng revealed that about 52 million among all the 264 million people aged 60 and above in China have not finished the vaccination procedure, most of whom are above 80. Only 50.7 percent are vaccinated.  

Vaccination among the Chinese people aged 60 and above is comparatively low, and  authorities would continue to enhance measures to promote vaccination among the group as it is important to protect the group from the virus, according to Zeng.

Chinese authorities are also adjusting anti-epidemic measures toward a direction experts said is a more "scientifically relaxed" anti-epidemic policy.