Some of the most significant recent stories emanating from Chinese healthcare and life sciences, including why the development of a domestic mRNA COVID vaccine – widely acknowledged as an essential tool to shifting away from the country’s zero-COVID policy – is under threat from new mutations of the virus. Other stories include the country’s rapid development of a COVID antiviral, why biopharma investment in China continues to thrive amid a US downturn, and AstraZeneca’s plans to expand its manufacturing footprint in the coastal city of Qingdao.
China is making progress in efforts to develop a homegrown messenger RNA Covid-19 vaccine, but experts warn that it risks being outpaced by rapid mutations of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Beijing’s refusal to approve foreign jabs, and the limited effectiveness of the more traditional inactivated vaccines available from domestic companies, mean an mRNA vaccine is widely seen as essential to any shift away from President Xi Jinping’s economically costly zero-Covid policy.
There are already two oral covid antiviral treatments granted emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration: Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir. Another covid antiviral is Gilead’s remdesivir, also authorized for emergency use.
But each has its drawbacks: Paxlovid can cause significant drug interactions for people on certain medications; molnupiravir’s mechanism of action could create new and dangerous virus mutations; and remdesivir must be administered intravenously, hindering accessibility.
Now, China is closing in on the finish line on developing its own covid antiviral pill. And it has what looks to be a promising candidate.
AstraZeneca plans to build a manufacturing facility in Qingdao, China, to produce its Breztri aerosol inhalant COPD treatment, which was recently added to the country’s National Reimbursement Drug List.
AZ made the announcement (Chinese) during a meeting with local municipal officials, though details regarding the cost, size and completion date weren’t disclosed.
Additionally, the company said it will set up a regional headquarters in Qingdao and establish an innovation center focused on rare diseases as part of its efforts to promote biomedical innovation in the country.
Despite the economic slowdown, driven in no small part by stringent pandemic measures and growing geopolitical tensions, China remains one of the world’s top business hubs. Many healthcare, pharmaceutical and biotech companies continue to place their bets on the East Asian giant, bringing fresh rounds of investments to and forging new partnerships with local firms.
FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Western companies that China aims to “ransack” their intellectual property so it can eventually dominate key industries, escalating a dispute between the world’s two largest economies over hacking.
The Asian nation’s spies were snooping on “companies everywhere from big cities to small towns — from Fortune 100s to start-ups, folks that focus on everything from aviation, to AI, to pharma,” Wray said in remarks to a gathering of business leaders and academics in London. He appeared alongside the head of MI5, Ken McCallum — the first time the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence agency have shared a forum.