Vaccine makers gain global edge with more R&D efforts
Improved innovation capability earns firms big orders for quality products
Chinese vaccine makers are expected to have a greater global presence, thanks to their much-improved research and development and manufacturing capabilities in recent years, according to industry experts and business leaders.
Their comments came after the first-time exports of China's homegrown pneumococcal 13-valent conjugate vaccine, or PCV13, developed by Kunming, Yunnan province-based Walvax Biotechnology Co Ltd, officially started shipping products to Morocco on Saturday.
Before that, Walvax announced on May 12 that Yuxi Walvax Biotechnology Co Ltd, its subsidiary in Yuxi, Yunnan province, had received the purchase order authorized by the Moroccan health authorities for 1 million doses of the PCV13 vaccine and would supply them to Morocco as agreed.
The PCV13 vaccine ranks first among all vaccines except for the COVID-19 vaccines in terms of global sales, with huge unmet demand both at home and abroad, the company said.
Used against diseases caused by 13 types of bacteria, the PCV13 vaccine is one of the most important measures taken to protect children from pneumococcal diseases, which range from ear and sinus infections to pneumonia and bloodstream infections and are a major cause of morbidity and mortality among young children worldwide.
Before Walvax, US-based multinational company Pfizer was the only one in the world capable of producing PCV13 vaccines.
Walvax started its PCV13 research project in 2005 even though many multinational pharmaceutical companies had failed in similar attempts. Its PCV13 vaccine obtained domestic market approval in 2019 for children from six weeks through five years of age. Pfizer's PCV13 version was approved in China in 2016 for children aged from six weeks to 15 months.
Currently, the company has been exporting various vaccines to 17 countries, including the United States, Egypt, Indonesia, India and Kyrgyzstan.
Analysts and business executives said going global has become a widely shared goal among Chinese pharmaceutical companies thanks to the vigorous development of the domestic pharmaceutical industry in recent years.
Chinese vaccine producers can provide high-quality vaccines to meet demand at home and abroad, they said.
"Unlike in the past when many Chinese enterprises intended to import foreign vaccines or technologies for domestic markets, nowadays strengthening independent research for in-house innovations has become a common mindset among Chinese vaccine producers," said Chen Qiulin, vice-director of the Research Center for Health Industry Development of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Domestic vaccine producers have made a lot of progress in improving innovation and high-end manufacturing capabilities to increase product quality, thanks to China's ongoing reforms in drug regulations and new enabling industry development policies that have attracted more talent and investment for the sector in recent years," he said.
The export of Walvax's PCV13 vaccine to Morocco has demonstrated China's high-end vaccines with independent intellectual property rights are able to compete against foreign counterparts. It has also showcased the confidence and determination of Chinese enterprises to go global, said Huang Zhen, vice-chairman of Walvax.
Customs data showed China's exports of human-use vaccines valued at 101 billion yuan ($15.13 billion) in 2021, an increase of more than 52 times from the figure in 2020.
The value surge was mostly attributable to the export performance of COVID-19 vaccines, thanks to Chinese vaccine makers' swift moves to successfully design vaccines based on different technological approaches, and approvals from overseas authorities and key international organizations.
Data from the China International Development Cooperation Agency showed China has provided more than 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 120 countries and international organizations, as well as transferred vaccine manufacturing technologies to more than 20 countries, which has resulted in an annual vaccine production capacity of 1 billion overseas.
China National Pharmaceutical Group, also known as Sinopharm, has produced 3 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for home and abroad. Sinovac Biotech Ltd said it has supplied more than 2.8 billion doses of the vaccine worldwide.
Chen, with CASS, said exporting COVID-19 vaccines will help Chinese companies accumulate valuable experience in global markets, and continuous improvements in R&D and innovation capabilities are most important for Chinese vaccine producers to polish their global image and gain better customer recognition.
CanSino Biologics Inc, another major COVID-19 vaccine producer in China, said it has developed pipelines of 17 vaccine candidates for 12 infectious diseases such as meningitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, COVID-19 and Ebola.
Huang, who is also chairman of Yuxi Walvax, said exports of the PCV13 vaccine are an important step for the company to increase global sales and realize an international strategy.
"We will sell more quality vaccine products to global markets through continued enhancements of our R&D, production and marketing capabilities," he added.