Caixin
Oct 21, 2020 08:11 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

In Blow to Fosun Pharma, Its German Partner to Make Covid-19 Vaccine for China Market

BioNTech’s German production plans would appear to be bad news for Fosun Pharma, which had been pushing to produce the vaccine in China.
BioNTech’s German production plans would appear to be bad news for Fosun Pharma, which had been pushing to produce the vaccine in China.

Germany’s BioNTech SE confirmed it would manufacture high-tech Covid-19 vaccines intended for the China market at its new plant in Germany, in what could be disappointing news for Chinese partner Fosun Pharma which had hoped to clinch a deal to make the vaccine locally.

BioNTech told Caixin in an unsigned email Tuesday it had decided to make vials of the experimental vaccine for the China market at a Marburg facility it purchased from Novartis AG in September, which it expects to be able to produce 250 million doses in the first half of next year.

All that will depend on whether the vaccine, which it is developing with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, actually works.

While all vaccines trick the body into thinking it has been infected with a disease, BioNTech’s candidate relies on a new and unproven vaccine technology that does so by giving genetic blueprints to the patient’s own cells that make them produce coronavirus proteins, which then trigger an immune response. It is one of just two so-called mRNA vaccines in advanced human trials, with the other being Moderna’s mRNA-1273.

A commercialization deal struck between BioNTech and Fosun in March would give Chinese patients access to the innovative vaccine if it is approved by the local regulator. The results of early trials have been promising but detailed data from later trials have not yet been published.

Bad news for Fosun

BioNTech’s German production plans would appear to be bad news for Fosun Pharma, which had been pushing to produce the vaccine in China.

President and CEO Wu Yifang told Caixin in August that the company was still exploring various possibilities, including working as a contract manufacturer for BioNTech or developing a full production line in China.

Fosun Pharma signed a deal to pay BioNTech up to $135 million in upfront and “potential future investment and milestone” payments for exclusive commercialization rights across the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Gross profits are to be shared under the deal.

Drug commercialization refers to everything from bringing the drug to market, determining pricing and target patient groups, and marketing it, as well as handling logistical issues like how to keep vials of it cool.

As more Covid-19 vaccines enter their final human trials, governments and firms around the world are working out how to produce the enormous quantity of doses needed to bring the out-of-control virus to heel.

BioNTech’s Marburg plant is one of three of its plants capable of making the BNT162 vaccine, with the other two also located in Germany. The trio give the company the capacity to produce 750 million doses annually.

The firm said previously it expects the vaccine to be ready for approval in the U.S by the end of the year.

The main vaccine candidates that China has in the pipeline, and which have already been administered outside of clinical trials to hundreds of thousands of people from frontline health workers to students destined for overseas study, rely on traditional technology like inactivated vaccines, with the exception of CanSino Biologics’ candidate which uses a genetically engineered cold virus to deliver the payload. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses.

Contact reporter Flynn Murphy (flynnmurphy@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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