News Brief

Shanghai-Based Biopharma Strikes Deal With Canadian Firm To Bring mRNA Covid Vaccine In China

Bhaswati Guha Majumder

Sep 14, 2021, 05:16 PM | Updated 05:16 PM IST

Covid-19 vaccine (Representative Image)
Covid-19 vaccine (Representative Image)
  • Chinese biopharmaceutical company Everest Medicines Ltd. has decided to licence an mRNA vaccine from Canada's Providence Therapeutics Holdings Inc., as it aims to deliver the most effective inoculation platform into China despite the country's apparent aversion to western vaccines.
  • Sinovac-CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine and Sinopharm's BBIBP-CorV jab—both are inactivated vaccines with an adjuvant—these two made-in-China vaccines are currently being used in the country.

    However, a Chinese biopharmaceutical company Everest Medicines Ltd. has decided to licence an mRNA vaccine from Canada's Providence Therapeutics Holdings Inc., as it aims to deliver the most effective inoculation platform into China despite the country's apparent aversion to western vaccines.

    The Canadian firm said in a statement on 13 September: "Providence Therapeutics Holdings Inc. announced today two separate definitive agreements with Everest Medicines Limited, to (i) license rights to Providence's mRNA Covid-19 vaccine candidates in emerging markets in Asia, including Greater China, Southeast Asia and Pakistan, and (ii) establish a broad, strategic partnership to develop mRNA products globally leveraging Providence's cutting-edge mRNA technology platform."

    Meanwhile, the Shanghai-based firm Everest also confirmed that it would get rights to Providence's vaccine in Greater China, as well as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

    According to the release, $50 million in initial upfront payment is to be paid in cash by Everest. It added that for the mRNA vaccines "in Greater China and Singapore, up to $100 million in profit-sharing on Covid-19 vaccines, and once profit share has reached an aggregate amount of $100 million, mid to high single-digit royalties, and in Everest Territories outside of Greater China and Singapore, mid-teens royalties on COVID-19 vaccine sales."

    If more products are created using Providence's mRNA technology platform, the contract includes an additional payment of up to $300 million in newly issued Everest stock.

    According to data, about 1 billion (over 88 crore) individuals in China have been fully vaccinated so far, with the majority of the population receiving Sinopharm and Sinovac jabs, which have been proved to be less effective compared to foreign vaccines.

    While the country still lacks one of the most effective Covid-19 vaccine technologies, Chinese regulators have yet to accept an agreement by Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co. to market BioNTech SE's mRNA shot in the Asian country. This delay has suggested that bringing in a foreign mRNA vaccine may be difficult, partially due to political issues between China and the West.

    However, in an interview, Everest chief executive officer Kerry Blanchard noted that if the Everest-Providence vaccine is approved, it will most likely be administered as a booster shot in China because the majority of the population has already been vaccinated.

    He said that primary immunisation is still required in other Asian countries under Everest's remit. According to Blanchard: "That's still a large group of people. I think it's a reasonable assumption that most adults will likely need a booster at some point, and the older you are, the more rapidly the immunity wanes. People will need to have at least one booster."

    Everest's full technology transfer of Providence's vaccine implies that the Chinese company will have a stronger share in the vaccine than Fosun Pharma, which will simply produce and market the BioNTech vaccine. This could enhance Everest's prospects of being designated a Chinese vaccine.

    In a news release, Everest noted that Providence's mRNA Covid-19 vaccine candidate, PTX-COVID19-B, is currently in Phase 2 clinical trials and "has demonstrated that it is generally safe and well-tolerated and that the PTX-COVID19-B dosed subjects have high neutralisation titers against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 (G614) in an S protein-typed pseudovirus assay". According to Blanchard, a phase 3 trial would begin this year or early next year.

    While Providence clarified in its statement that the safety and "safety and efficacy of PTX-COVID19-B has not yet been established", Blanchard claimed that the vaccine's immunogenicity and neutralisation are as excellent as or better than two top mRNA vaccines, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, against the virus's original strain and variants.

    China has been claiming that the homegrown vaccines are up to the mark and effective against the virus as well as the variants, despite reports showing otherwise. For example, a study suggested that the Sinopharm vaccine provide poor protection against Covid-19 among elderly people, which are the vulnerable population. Similarly, Sinovac jab also caused concerns after it posted efficacy levels of just above 50 per cent in a final-stage trial in Brazil.

    Despite all these issues, according to the state-run media Global Times, China is aiming to provide the world with 2 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses. Even though such moves by China highlights the confidence in homegrown vaccines, which have been given to a huge percentage of residents, the latest reports about the virus outbreaks in the country are showcasing a different story.

    One of these reports has revealed that a city in China's southern province of Fujian has closed cinemas and gyms, closed some highway entries and exits and advised locals not to leave town to curb the spread of the virus. On 13 September, state broadcaster CCTV said the Covid-19 situation in the city of Putian is "serious and complex" and it is very likely that more new infection cases will emerge in communities, schools and factories.

    Even several countries, such as Bahrain, Seychelles, Chili and Mongolia, which used inactivated vaccines from Chinese companies, faced a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases, despite ruining ambitious inoculation campaigns.

    The delay in certifying the BioNTech vaccine has fuelled conjecture that Beijing is attempting to avoid admitting that Chinese vaccines may be less effective than Western vaccines, at a time when China has vowed to send more doses around the world.

    However, Everest's CEO Blanchard said: "We believe that a locally manufactured vaccine is the right approach, and that's the approach we'll pursue. I do believe our ability to do full technology transfer into China is important."

    Meanwhile, according to other reports, Chinese company Walvax Biotechnology Co.'s domestic mRNA vaccine is in Phase 3 trial and the effectiveness data is expected by the end of the year. Additionally, Sinopharm, which has given more than 1.6 billion shots worldwide, has stated that it is also currently working on mRNA jabs to combat virus variants.

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