China approves vaccine trials for coronavirus, on par with US

About 19 hours after the US announced it would start human trials for the first coronavirus vaccine, China revealed its own initial trials on the first vaccine the country developed, showing that the two largest economies are on par in the race to save the public health crisis.

Given China’s system advantages, for example, in accelerating the examination and approval procedure, the country is expected to be ahead in putting the vaccine into the market, analysts said. Although the vaccine will likely not be available for wide use for another 12-18 months, it gave the world great hope in combating the disease.

After arriving at Wuhan, Chen Wei, a Chinese military major general, and her team launched pharmacy, pharmaceutical and toxicological research on COVID-19 vaccine in cooperation with local companies, based on their previous successful experiences in developing Ebola vaccine.

They quickly finished design, recombination, and production under the Good Manufacturing Practice and quality control review of the vaccine, according to CCTV.

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Chen’s team passed the registration review of clinical research and was approved for clinical trial on Monday night. 

She also noted that, consistent with international norms and domestic regulations, vaccines have been prepared for safe, effective, controllable quality and mass production.

On Tuesday, US media reported that the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine developed in the country had begun clinical trials on Monday on 45 healthy volunteers, citing US health officials.

And local scientists estimated that the vaccine will likely not be available for wide use for another 12-18 months.  

Dozens of countries and regions have joined a “vaccine race” since the outbreak. Now as China and the US come to the same position in vaccine development, Chinese experts held that China would probably go one step ahead due to systematic advantages.

In China, military has been leading ahead in vaccine research and development, and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Medical Sciences has abundant research forces in this field, Yang Gonghuan, a former vice director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

“I believe other institutions including national CDC, Chinese Academy of Sciences and some hospitals are advancing relevant researches too,” she said. 

The military has advantages in vaccine development as they face less restrictions – for example, in reaching samples and advanced experimental conditions, compared to private companies and institutes, which is a decisive factor, according to a Beijing-based immunologic expert who requested anonymity. 

On the contrary, the US will be less compatible in joint work as it has to follow market operations, the expert said.   

Media reported that Chen and her team took over the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the only P4 laboratory in use in Asia, after arriving in the city.

The vaccine approved to clinical trial is jointly developed by the team led by Chen, who is also an academician at the PLA Academy of Military Medical Sciences, and a Tianjin-based biotechnology company CanSino Biologics Inc, according to the media report. 

Private enterprises in China may not have such strong research capabilities in the field of vaccine research compared to those of the US, but military sciences system has strong footprints in this domain, Yang noted. 

Chen, the military scientist, was quoted as saying in the report that the vaccine has been tested on safety, effectiveness and quality control and is prepared for massive production. And the biotechnology firm has started to recruit volunteers for the vaccine.

Chen’s team has worked with CanSino previously on Ebola. A recombinant Ebola vaccine they developed was approved in October 2017 by the China Food and Drug Administration, which is the third approved Ebola vaccine in the world and the first in Asia.

In April, most of the eight research teams with missions assigned by the Chinese central government are expected to complete preclinical preparations and gradually start clinical trials, according to earlier reports. 

China is developing a COVID-19 vaccine using five technical routes, including inactivated vaccine, attenuated influenza virus vaccine and nucleic acid-based vaccine, Wang Junzhi, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told a press conference on Tuesday in Beijing.


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