[WU HEPING/FOR CHINA DAILY]
Enterprises supply vaccines, other vital medical resources worldwide
On May 12, Chinese bio-pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech began building a vaccine factory in Quilicura, Chile, with a designated annual production capacity of 50 million doses.
Flavio Salazar, the South American nation's minister of science, technology, knowledge and innovation, said at a launch ceremony for the factory that the project is strategically important for the development of Chile's vaccine manufacturing industry, which has halted development for about 20 years.
Covering 21,000 square meters, the factory will produce and package vaccines designed to protect against diseases including COVID-19, hepatitis A and the flu. It is also aimed at enhancing the production of local vaccines.
To date, more than 26 million doses of the company's COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Chile.
Three days before the factory ceremony, Sinovac Biotech won an award from the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises of Indonesia for its cooperation on COVID-19 control measures with such companies in the Southeast Asian country.
Sinovac Biotech has provided more than 280 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Indonesia, of which over 100 million were exported as semi-finished products, before being packaged by local SOE Bio Pharm, a Sinovac partner, for joint manufacturing of the coronavirus vaccine.
These are just two of the latest examples of the numerous contributions made by such Chinese companies in the global fight against the pandemic that have won recognition from governments and the public overseas.
Since the pandemic began, Chinese companies have provided many other nations with vaccines that were developed quickly, along with other key medical resources such as test kits and protective clothing.
With the emergence of the rapidly-spread and highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, Chinese enterprises are expected to continue playing an important role in fighting the disease, which has claimed millions of lives worldwide and had a severe impact on the global economy.
On May 22, the World Health Organization warned that the pandemic was continuing, even as many countries lifted restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
More than 6 million deaths from the disease have been reported to the WHO, but the organization's latest estimates show that the number of fatalities is much higher, at nearly 15 million.
Global flows of foreign direct investment vital for sustainable development in poorer areas of the world have also been hit by the pandemic, causing widespread concern amid other uncertainties such as geopolitical issues.
In Beijing, Chen Jia, a researcher at Renmin University of China's International Monetary Institute, said more solutions from Chinese enterprises are expected to help the world strengthen its defenses against the pandemic, especially with the emergence of new variants, and with global industrial and supply chains under heavy pressure.
"Chinese pharmaceutical enterprises have become a major force for China to help the world narrow the vaccine divide－the inequitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccines," Chen said.
"These enterprises are constantly optimizing their research and development of new products to better deal with mutations of the virus and to make more contributions to containing the pandemic globally."
A nurse holds a syringe containing a COVID-19 vaccine made by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, a unit of Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group (CNBG), at a vaccination center in Beijing, April 15, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]
Analysts said that thanks to the diligent efforts in pursuing high-quality development in recent years, Chinese companies producing pharmaceuticals and medical devices have embarked on a fresh growth path that features new product research and development based on innovation and clinical value.
Such progress will not only fuel development of the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries in China, but also promise more effective ways for the world to contain or at least cope with the constantly evolving coronavirus.
On May 23, Shanghai Junshi Biosciences Co said an oral anti-COVID-19 drug it is developing had met its primary goal in a phase-3 clinical study for the early treatment of mild to moderate cases of the disease.
The Shanghai company said it would soon contact domestic health authorities to register the drug, which is being jointly developed with several other domestic entities, including Vigonvita Life Sciences Co and three affiliates of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
A phase-2 clinical trial of the drug completed in Uzbekistan last year among patients who had moderate to severe COVID-19, found that two different doses of the drug had favorable safety and efficacy in treating such patients, in comparison with standard therapy.
Based on these positive results, the drug, which is designed to inhibit replication of the coronavirus, was approved to treat moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 in the central Asian nation.
In April, Kintor Pharma, a clinical-stage biotechnology company in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, said that a potential COVID-19 treatment significantly reduced hospitalization and death in COVID-19 outpatients during a phase-3 multi-regional clinical trial, especially among middle-aged and elderly patients with high-risk factors.
The company will expand production capacity for the drug to 50 million doses by the end of this year, it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, China National Biotec Group, a subsidiary of China National Pharmaceutical Group, also known as Sinopharm, has developed three Omicron vaccines, beginning clinical trials early last month.
Sinovac Biotech has also obtained approval for clinical trials for its Omicron vaccine on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong.
Jiangsu Recbio Technology Co, an innovative vaccine company founded in 2012 in Taizhou, Jiangsu, is developing the world's first lyophilized (freeze-dried) Omicron-specific mRNA vaccine, which can be stored and transported at temperatures of 2 to 8 C.An mRNA vaccine teaches the immune system to make memory cells.
Even though the candidate vaccine is only at the preclinical study stage, if it successfully completes all studies and trials to be successfully launched on the market, it is expected to significantly improve accessibility to such vaccines because it does not require ultra-cold storage and transportation conditions, unlike those already on the market.
A staff member of Sinovac works on the COVID-19 vaccine production line in Beijing, on July 8, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]
Liu Yong, founder and chairman of Jiangsu Recbio Technology, said, "The research and development (R&D), production and commercialization of the Chinese pharmaceutical industry have made remarkable progress in recent years thanks to a supportive regulatory environment.
"Policy measures that attract high-end overseas talent, or enable high-tech enterprises to expand financing, have also provided strong support for domestic pharmaceutical enterprises to grow."
Data from the China International Development Cooperation Agency show that the nation has provided more than 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to a total of 120 countries and international organizations. China has also transferred vaccine manufacturing technologies to more than 20 nations, resulting in an overseas annual vaccine production capacity of 1 billion doses.
Sinovac Biotech, which has been granted access licenses by more than 60 countries, international organizations and regions in total for its COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac, has supplied more than 2.8 billion doses of it worldwide.
The company also plans to establish vaccine factories in at least 10 countries, including Egypt, South Africa, Chile and Indonesia, to strengthen international cooperation.
It is helping Egypt build a fully automated cold storage facility to accommodate 150 million doses of vaccines.
On completion, the facility will be the largest vaccine storage center in Africa, greatly improving cold chain storage on that continent.
Sinovac Biotech helped with construction of the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Center's branch in China and is also cooperating with universities, research institutions and industries in BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and other countries.
Gao Qiang, the company's chief operating officer, said, "In order to play a better role in the global pharmaceutical industry, Chinese enterprises must advance innovation-driven development and strengthen global cooperation."
Sinopharm Group, a State-owned pharmaceutical company that produces nearly 100 vaccine products and more than 200 bio-products, spent more than 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) on scientific research during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20).
The company, which is increasing investment for the R&D, is the only one worldwide to independently develop not only vaccines, but also test kits and treatments for the disease. It has produced four COVID-19 test kits, four antivirus therapies, and four titles for vaccines or potential vaccines.
In total, more than 119 countries, regions and international organizations have approved the use of COVID-19 vaccines made by Sinopharm's subsidiary CNBG, which has produced more than 3 billion doses of such vaccines at home and overseas.
Sinopharm chairman Liu Jingzhen said, "Having been approved for use in a large number of countries and regions, our COVID-19 vaccines are the most widely used in the world, and have the largest inoculation population, the best safety record and the most efficient production capacity.
"We are proud to have contributed to the global containment of the disease and to have increased the worldwide presence of pharmaceutical products developed in China."
Shi Lichen, founder of medical consulting company Beijing Dingchen Consultancy, also spoke highly of the contribution to global anti-pandemic efforts made by Chinese enterprises that manufacture medical devices, especially as the Omicron variant has increased demand for rapid and convenient tests.
"Thanks to their solid manufacturing capacity and impressive efficiency in organizing the development and production of these urgently needed products, Chinese producers have been making COVID-19 test kits on a large scale to meet demand at home and abroad," Shi said.
A model of BGI Genomics' Huo-Yan Air Laboratory is showcased at the China Pavilion of the Dubai World Expo in Dubai, on Jan 11, 2022. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Range of tests
In Shenzhen, Guangdong province, BGI Genomics, one of the world's largest genomic sequencing companies, has developed a variety of COVID-19 tests, using various technologies to meet diversified demand. Its test products have been exported to a total of more than 180 countries and regions.
The company's COVID-19 rapid nucleic acid test kits are more sensitive than many antigen detection products and are suitable for self-use.
To meet demand for rapid testing in front-line situations such as customs control points, and at airports and ports that lack professional laboratory facilities and personnel, BGI came up with a solution called PM easy lab－an integrated system that can detect eight common respiratory pathogens simultaneously, including COVID-19.
According to Shi, in vitro diagnostic devices, or IVDs, which are designed to examine samples taken from the body, require a large amount of knowledge, interdisciplinary research and development, along with manufacturing and laboratory applications involving biology, physics, chemistry, optoelectronics and genetics. It is extremely difficult to develop high-end IVDs, Shi added.
Efforts by Chinese IVD producers to meet increased demand during the pandemic have seen them climb the industrial value chain, becoming better prepared to develop top-quality and original products for high-end markets, he added.
However, experts said Chinese pharmaceutical and medical device companies need to make more efforts to strengthen R&D and innovation capabilities, venture deeper into global markets, especially in developed economies.
Meng Lilian, chief analyst at the Sichuan Tianfu Health Industry Research Institute in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, said factors preventing such companies expanding their presence overseas include a low acceptance of China-made drugs in developed markets, and the inefficient commercialization of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, overseas.
Chen, the researcher at Renmin University, said, "Chinese enterprises must become more alert to variations in regulatory environments in different countries and they should also reinforce their R&D innovation capabilities.
"The best way for them to increase their global presence is to continually improve their product and service quality," he said.
TCM is expected to win increased global acceptance if international cooperation and product R&D are enhanced, Chen added.
As global exports of COVID-19 vaccines are declining, Chinese producers are also expected to strengthen technology and manufacturing cooperation with foreign counterparts while investing more in R&D, Chen said.