China grants 'conditional' approval for Pfizer's antiviral Covid-19 pill

Paxlovid's import registration was approved on Feb 11, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP/BLOOMBERG) - China on Saturday (Feb 12) said it had given “conditional” approval for Pfizer’s Covid-19 drug Paxlovid to treat adults with mild to moderate illness and a high risk of developing severe disease.

Paxlovid's import registration was approved on Friday, the National Medical Products Administration said in a statement on its website on Saturday.

The Chinese regulator requires relevant research work to continue to be carried out, with conditional requirements completed within a time limit, and the follow-up research results submitted in a timely manner, according to the statement.

Paxlovid has so far been authorised in several countries including the United States and Israel, while the European Union has permitted member states to use it ahead of formal approval as an emergency measure against Omicron.

Unlike Covid-19 vaccines, the drug does not target the ever-evolving spike protein that the coronavirus uses to invade cells.

The approval is the first China has given to a drug or vaccine developed by a foreign country for Covid-19. The mRNA Covid vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which China's Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group secured rights to for the Greater China region, has not yet been approved in China.

China's homegrown efforts to develop Covid-19 antivirals have largely lagged the West, with the most advanced still in the final stage of trials at sites outside of the country.

China, where the coronavirus first emerged in late 2019, has slowed new cases to a trickle with a strict "zero-Covid-19" strategy of targeted lockdowns, travel restrictions and quarantines.

But Beijing is still fighting several isolated flare-ups, locking down a southern city earlier this week as case numbers spiked.

The country’s uncompromising approach on the pandemic has led it to hold the ongoing Winter Olympics in a so-called “closed loop”, preventing participants from coming into contact with the wider population.

More than 400 cases related to the Games have been confirmed so far, according to organisers.

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