Moving the needle

Who is going to benefit from China’s approval of the BioNTech jab?


Soon available in China?

Pfizer, whose Covid-19 vaccines are protecting over half of the fully inoculated population in the US, has been trumpeting the need for a third booster dose. Meanwhile, Germany, Canada and the UK are all recommending a mixed regimen: if you alternate doses of vaccines that use the adenoviral vector platform with those developed via the mRNA technique, you may benefit from a superior immune response.

The implication is that Covid-19 vaccination campaign are unlikely to be a one-off. People who are fully vaccinated will still need boosters, while those getting jabs developed with more traditional methods will need an mRNA shot at some point.

Similar opinions are apparently swaying the Chinese government in its stance on the mRNA Covid-19 jab co-developed by Germany’s BioNTech and Pfizer and China’s Fosun (which invested $135 million in the endeavour last March), especially when none of the purely domestically developed mRNA candidates have completed their clinical trials yet (see WiC492).

Having concluded an expert panel review of the widely used jab, officially known as Comirnaty, Chinese authorities are planning to offer the vaccine for free as a booster shot for people who have received l0cal vaccines made with older technology, Caixin Weekly reported. If that turns out to be true, 100 million doses of Comirnaty could be distributed in the Chinese market by the end of this year.

Fosun has already started preparing for local production. Based on its agreement with BioNTech in May, Fosun will have the capacity to produce one billion Comirnaty shots annually – following the completion of its production facilities in Shanghai next month.

Another Chinese company that might be a beneficiary is AIM Vaccine. It is the only Chinese drug developer that has a portfolio of Covid-19 vaccine candidates covering all approved methodologies. Its mRNA candidate – obtained by acquiring a 50% stake in Zhuhai-based Liverna Therapeutics in May – is currently one of the three domestically developed mRNA candidates undergoing clinical trials. It is also at preclinical stages of developing an adenoviral vector candidate envisaged as broad-spectrum protection against different coronaviruses including SARS and MERS.

AIM was not on the radar of most pharma analysts last year when others were racing to release a Covid jab. However, despite its low profile it is China’s second largest vaccine maker by ‘approved lot release volume’ – just behind state-owned China National Biotec Group, which developed the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine. Of the 631 million doses of (non-Covid) vaccines approved by the Chinese regulator last year, AIM accounted for 9.5% of the pie. It sold eight vaccines effective against six diseases.

AIM is planning to raise up to $1 billion through an IPO in Hong Kong to fund clinical trials for 23 other vaccine candidates, reports International Financing Review. This follows the $319 million IPO of Brii Biosciences last week (a company founded by the former head of GSK’s infectious diseases unit and an HIV expert).

China generated Rmb64 billion ($9.1 billion) in vaccine sales last year. That made it the second largest market with 16% of global revenue, having logged a compound annual growth rate of 21% in the five years to 2020. Nor is vaccine demand anywhere near peaking in China. Of the top 10 vaccines, which accounted for 63% of the global market by sales, half are still unavailable in China even though they have been on sale internationally for more than a decade.

Last year, AIM recorded a 72% increase in revenue to Rmb1.64 billion, as net profit quadrupled to Rmb400 million. Despite its wide array of offerings, two-thirds of its income came from its human rabies vaccine, and a quarter from its recombinant hepatitis B vaccines. In fact, 81% of China’s newborns received AIM’s recombinant HBV jabs, making it the world’s largest supplier of these inoculations.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.