China’s Sinovac amps up COVID-19 vaccine work with new facility backed by Chinese government

Kyle Blankenship

Chinese biotech Sinovac, one of many drugmakers seeking a COVID-19 vaccine, is leveraging aid from the People’s Republic of China to help it cross the finish line. But first, Sinovac will have to build out a massive new facility on the government’s dime.

With financial backing from the Chinese government, Sinovac will erect a new vaccine production facility on 230,000 square feet of land to help speed the development of a novel coronavirus shot, Reuters reported Thursday.

Sinovac reaped an $8.5 million low-interest loan from the Bank of Beijing to fund the development and will invest a similar amount of its own money into the project, the news service said.

Sinovac’s hope is to produce 100 million COVID-19 shots per year if the vaccine proves successful. If those plans fall through, the drugmaker would pivot the facility’s use for other vaccines.

A Sinovac official reportedly told Reuters that the government’s decision to dole out the sizable plot of land was made in about two weeks, where negotiations would normally take longer than two years. 

China’s speedy move to get Sinovac’s facility up and running comes one week after the drugmaker launched phase 1 clinical testing for its vaccine candidate.

Two other firms, CanSino Bio and the state-owned Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, also received government approval to move ahead with trials. Earlier this month, CanSino’s candidate entered phase 2 testing based on preliminary efficacy data.

In a primate study of Sinovac’s vaccine candidate posted earlier this week, researchers found the shot protected rhesus macaques from contracting the novel coronavirus three weeks after an initial injection. 

RELATED: Biopharma’s no-holds-barred fight to find a COVID-19 vaccine: The full list

Sinovac is one of a slew of pharmas and biotechs aiming for a COVID-19 vaccine to help stanch the tide of novel coronavirus infections. 

On Friday, Johnson & Johnson announced it had inked a deal with Emergent BioSciences to bolster manufacturing capacity for its own vaccine hopeful. The global drugmaker hopes to take its vaccine into human trials in September and has set an aggressive commercial rollout timeline for as early as 2021. 

Meanwhile, Moderna Therapeutics, which is developing an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, has secured up to $483 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to bankroll late-stage trials for the vaccine as well as step up its manufacturing. If its phase 1 study goes to plan, the company expects to start a phase 2 trial in the second quarter, with phase 3 to follow as early as this fall.

RELATED: Sanofi gets COVID-19 sales boost as CEO touts vaccine manufacturing prowess

French drugmaker Sanofi, in partnership with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, has touted its own manufacturing heft as a possible game-changer in the vaccine hunt. 

In a call with reporters Friday, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson said the partners were the only drugmakers likely to be able to meet the sky-high demand for a vaccine even if one is approved in the coming months. 

“We know that there are over 76 different vaccines in play at the moment, but let’s be honest, to make them at scale, rather than just a few million doses, is really where the complexity will be,” Hudson said.

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