A staff member takes out samples of the COVID-19 inactivated vaccine at a vaccine production plant of Sinopharm in Beijing, on April 11, 2020. (Photo/Xinhua)
China National Pharmaceutical Group Co, or Sinopharm, is stepping up efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccine candidates to contribute to global public health and safeguard the well-being of people around the world.
The third-stage clinical trials of its two inactivated vaccine candidates, developed by the company's vaccine and bioscience subsidiary China National Biotech Group, are being conducted in 10 countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Argentina, Egypt and Peru, said Liu Jinzhen, the company's chairman.
Currently, there are around 60,000 volunteers, as people from more than 125 nations join the vaccine trials, he said.
Liu spoke at a news briefing held by the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council on Oct 20.
According to an Oct 19 document from the World Health Organization, there are 44 COVID-19 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation, among which 10 have reached the final stage of testing.
China currently has 13 vaccine candidates in clinical trials, and among them three inactivated vaccines and one adenovirus vector vaccine are in phase three trials overseas, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Zhang Yuntao, vice-president of CNBG and a primary researcher of the COVID-19 vaccines, said the company's phase three clinical trials of the two vaccine candidates are the largest in terms of recipient population among all the vaccine candidates under the same stage of trials.
The wide coverage of recipients from different countries will also prepare a good foundation for the vaccines to be used globally once they receive regulatory approval after successful trials, he said.
Once safety and efficiency data are obtained during the third-stage clinical trial, the vaccine candidates can apply for the review and approval of the authorities concerned for market launch. Dozens of countries have already contacted the Chinese company to express interest in buying approved vaccines, according to Liu.
In fact, both vaccine candidates have been approved for emergency use in China for incubation in high-risk groups, such as frontline medical personnel, border staff, and people traveling overseas on work.
The UAE also authorized emergency use of a Sinopharm vaccine for frontline workers last month.
Those who received two doses of the vaccines at an interval of 28 days saw their neutralizing antibody positive conversion rate reach 100 percent, Liu said.
Shi Lichen, founder of Beijing Dingchen Consultancy, spoke highly of the efforts that CNBG has made toward the research and development of the vaccines.
"The company has demonstrated high-level R&D capabilities as well as a strong sense of corporate social responsibility," he said.
CNBG launched inactivated vaccine R&D program on Feb 1, and as of April 12, one of its inactivated vaccine candidates was authorized to start phase one and two clinical trials in China.
On April 27, another inactivated vaccine candidate was also approved for clinical trials.
Since then, more than 4,000 volunteers of various ages have participated in the first-and second-stage clinical trials.
Zhang said vaccine is a "strong weapon" to protect people from infectious disease, and the company is well-poised to provide any approved COVID-19 vaccines to the world.
Sinopharm, a State-owned enterprise and China's largest pharmaceutical and healthcare company, also ramped up efforts to increase vaccine capacity, as China has stated on many occasions that it will make COVID-19 vaccines a global public good when available, to increase vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries, including African countries.
CNBG has completed building high biosafety production bases with capacity that will exceed 1 billion vials next year to meet widespread demand for vaccination.
The company offered a tour of its facilities to a team of African ambassadors and senior diplomats recently. Liu said the company is willing to join hands with African people to deepen cooperation in the fight against COVID-19.
This should hopefully strengthen friendship between the Chinese and African peoples, besides contributing to the shared goals of the China-Africa health community.
In June, in a keynote speech to the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 held via video link, President Xi Jinping remarked that once the development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccine are completed in China, African countries will be among the first to benefit.
Sinopharm will endeavor to honor's China's commitment to Africa, Liu said.
Through medical gear production and distribution, the group already has built a strong presence in the global fight against the pandemic.
With the world's largest medical distribution network at its disposal, the company has provided 3 billion items of medical protection gear to more than 130 countries and regions.
Shanghai Geneodx Biotech Co Ltd, an affiliate of CNBG, is one of the first three companies in China to develop novel coronavirus test kits.
CNBG is also the first in China to develop convalescent plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients. For this purpose, it used blood plasma taken from convalescents, as recommended in the official guidelines for the treatment of the disease in China.
Sinopharm ranked 169th on the Fortune Global 500 last year, and fourth among the pharmaceutical companies on the same list.