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China-Developed mRNA Covid Vaccine Starts Test Production -- WSJ

The Wall Street Journal · 01/06/2023 05:36

By Joyu Wang

TAIPEI -- Chinese drugmaker CanSino Biologics Inc. started trial production of a vaccine targeting new variants of Covid-19 that are behind the country's current outbreak, which would be among the first developed in China using the mRNA technology that drove inoculation in the U.S. and other countries.

The Tianjin-based biotech firm plans to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine, designed to combat Omicron during the first phase of manufacturing, according to a company release posted to its social-media account late on Thursday.

The vaccine is now undergoing clinical trials that have shown positive results in terms of safety and ability to provoke an immune response, the release said. CanSino didn't immediately respond to a request for more detailed information about the results of the trials, or the significance of the test production run.

CS-2034, as CanSino's shot is now called, is based on the same gene-based messenger RNA technology found in Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc.'s vaccines. The breakthrough comes after almost three years of fighting the pandemic, during which Beijing has relied largely on homegrown vaccines that have grown less effective than mRNA shots in combating new strains of the virus.

Low levels of effective vaccination and an almost complete absence of exposure to Covid enabled the new variant to race through China's population, according to public health experts. While China's main Sinovac and Sinopharm shots provide high levels of protection against severe illness and death, they aren't enough to stop the virus from spreading, according to published medical research and the World Health Organization.

In November, China agreed to approve the domestic use of Pfizer's vaccine, which was developed with Germany's BioNTech SE, but only for some foreign residents. More than 4.3 billion doses of the vaccine have been shipped globally, according to Pfizer.

At the moment, China mostly uses so-called inactivated vaccines, which use a neutralized sample of a pathogen to provoke an immune response from the body. In September, China approved an inhalable vaccine made by CanSino; that was the world's first for Covid, for use as a booster.

The CanSino vaccine targeting the BA.5 strain of the Omicron variant produced neutralizing antibody levels 29 times higher than a previous version, when used as a booster for people had received three doses of inactivated vaccines, CanSino said. It added that the Chinese mRNA vaccine also provides a better and safer immune response in people aged 60 or above than other mRNA vaccines.

CanSino's latest progress in developing its mRNA vaccine followed a back-and-forth between Beijing and officials at the World Health Organization over the country's Covid-19 data -- especially on deaths -- just days ahead of China's planned border reopening on Jan. 8.

In September, Indonesia approved another Chinese-made mRNA vaccine for emergency use, becoming the world's first to give a green light to a Chinese vaccine using the technology. The vaccine, known as AWcorna, was co-developed by Chinese drugmakers Suzhou Abogen Biosciences Co. and Walvax Biotechnology Co., as well as a research institute run by China's military.

Write to Joyu Wang at joyu.wang@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 06, 2023 05:36 ET (10:36 GMT)

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