COVID-19: China's Sinovac secures $500m in funding for vaccine development

Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac has secured a $515m cash injection, as one of the country’s leading vaccine hopefuls looks to increase production and distribution of its Covid-19 vaccine once final-stage testing is concluded. 

Sino Biopharmaceutical, a Hong Kong-listed generic drugs group, said on Monday it had acquired a 15 per cent stake in Sinovac Life Sciences, the subsidiary of Sinovac that has developed a Covid-19 vaccine undergoing large-scale trials in Brazil, Pakistan, Indonesia and Chile. 

Sinovac’s vaccine — alongside two other candidates developed by state-run group Sinopharm — is a Chinese frontrunner to be sold worldwide. 

Yin Weidong, Sinovac chief executive, said the investment would enable the group “to improve our vaccine sales capabilities [and] expand in Asia markets”. 

The company expects to be able to manufacture 300m doses of the vaccine each year but capacity will double with the construction of a second production facility by the end of 2020. 

The funding announcement comes after separate efforts by leading western vaccine makers Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford piled pressure on Chinese pharmaceutical groups, which have pledged to distribute their vaccines across the developing world as part of a charm offensive by Beijing. 

China’s inactivated vaccines are more easily distributed than those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which need to be transported at minus 70C and minus 20C respectively. 

Sinovac has already made sizeable shipments overseas in preparation for the announcement of phase-3 results, as well as distributing its vaccine within China as part of a large-scale emergency use programme. Sino’s shares were up almost 5 per cent in afternoon trading. 

Sinovac, one of China’s leading vaccine producers, said the funding will be used for the “further development, capacity expansion and manufacturing” of CoronaVac. 

It added it hoped to be able to manufacture 600 million doses by the end of the year. 

Although regulators have yet to approve China’s vaccines for mass distribution, the country has approved some advanced candidates for emergency use. Since July a range of people from state employees to international students have been given jabs. 

CoronaVac is being tested in multiple countries including Brazil, where final-stage clinical trials for the jab have restarted after hitting a setback in November when a volunteer experienced an “adverse incident. 

The vaccine “has reached critical milestones in clinical trials in Asia and Latin America,” Sinovac CEO Yin Weidong said in the statement. 

The company earlier said almost all its employees and their families have voluntarily taken the vaccine. 

Sinopharm, another Chinese vaccine maker, said in November that nearly a million people have already taken its experimental Covid-19 vaccine. 

Last week Britain became the first Western country to approve a vaccine for general use, piling pressure on other countries to follow suit swiftly. 

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