China’s National Medical Products Administration has approved early-stage clinical trials for experimental COVID-19 vaccines developed by Beijing-based unit of Sinovac Biotech and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products under state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm). The two “inactivated vaccine” trials have commenced.
What are Inactivated vaccines?
An inactivated vaccine (killed vaccine) is one that consists of a virus particles, such as bacteria or other pathogens that have been grown in culture and then lose disease, producing capacity as opposed to live vaccines, which use pathogens that are still alive (but are almost always attenuated—weakened). These pathogens are grown under controlled conditions and are killed as a means to reduce virulence and thus prevent from the infection.
Why an Inactivated vaccine?
As inactivated vaccine use killed pathogenic microorganisms for enhancing immunogenicity, they bring some advantages, including mature production process, controllable quality standards and wide production range. Moreover, they can be used for large-scale vaccination and their safety and effectiveness can be assessed by internationally accepted standards. As this type of vaccine is associated with hepatitis A, influenza, hand-foot-and-mouth disease and poliomyelitis, China also has a significant research foundation and experience with this approach.
What kind of money are these Chinese companies investing?
According to Xinhua, Sinopharm is investing approximately $142 million for vaccine research and development in two technological approaches—a couple approaches include the inactivated vaccine effort just approved another inactivated vaccine as well and a genetic engineering vaccine still in preclinical research.
What is Sinovac’s overall approach?
Sinovac had considerable experience working on SARS vaccine research and development and for the COVID-19 vaccine effort works closely with a number of institutions, including Zhejiang Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute of Laboratory Animal Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. Their vaccine, according to the Chinese press, evidences positive cross-neutralization reaction to different COVID-19 strains.
COVID-19 Vaccine development in China
Xinhua reports that China’s drug regulator, the National Medical Products Administration, also has accelerated the greenlight process associated with COVID-19 vaccine development based on safety and efficacy factors. Within this framework, they adopted five technological approaches to develop COVID-19 vaccines, including 1) inactivated vaccines, 2) recombinant protein vaccines, 3) adenovirus vector vaccines, 4) nucleic acid vaccines, and 5) vaccines using attenuated influenza viruses as vectors.
Additionally, the Institute of Military Medicine, under the Academy of Military Sciences initiated a clinical trial on March 16 testing its recombinant adenovirus vector vaccine.
Founded in 2001, Sinovac (SVA) is a biopharmaceutical company focusing on the development, manufacture and commercialization of vaccines that protect against human infectious diseases. Based in Beijing, they have commercialized vaccines, including Healive (hepatitis A), Bilive (combined hepatitis A and B), Anflu (influenza), Panflu (H5N1), and PANFLU.1 (H1N1).
The company’s founders, including Mr. Weidong Yin, worked on vaccines at Tanghan Yian Biological Engineering Co. Ltd. Over the past two decades, the company has developed and commercialized six human-used vaccines and one animal vaccine and they have progressed an advanced R&D pipeline. By 2018, the publicly traded company was generating a profit of $36 million on nearly $300 million in revenue, according to its annual report.
Wuhan Institute of Biological Products operates under the government-owned Sinopharm. Based in Wuhan, the company mainly develops, produces, and sells prevention products, blood products new therapeutic products, diagnostic reagents and medical devices. They are owned by state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group.