China's mRNA Covid-19 vaccine-maker expects efficacy data by year end

The mRNA candidate has received approval from regulators in Indonesia and Mexico to start phase three testing. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - The company behind China's first home-grown mRNA Covid-19 vaccine aims to have efficacy data from late-stage testing of the shot before the end of the year, a key step in the nation's drive to match Western use of the cutting-edge technology.

The mRNA candidate, developed by Chinese vaccine-maker Walvax Biotechnology, Suzhou Abogen Biosciences and researchers from the Chinese military, has received approval from regulators in Indonesia and Mexico to start phase three testing, Walvax vice-chairman Huang Zhen said in an interview.

Once 52 eligible Covid-19 cases are detected from the trial, which aims to enroll as many as 30,000 people, researchers will conduct interim analysis on the shot's efficacy against both the original version of the virus and its variants, including the highly infectious Delta strain.

"I'm confident the results will be consistent with those seen in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine," Mr Huang told Bloomberg News. That shot - in use in vast swathes of the West, including the US - was highly effective against symptomatic Covid-19 in phase three trials and has seen its potency hold up well against the Delta variant.

The Chinese shot builds on an existing partnership between Shenzhen-listed Walvax and Abogen to develop an mRNA vaccine against shingles. The test results will provide a glimpse of China's progress on utilising the highly advanced technology, which also has the potential to be used in combating other diseases, from the flu to cancer.

The efficacy of inactivated virus shots from China's dominant Covid-19 vaccine developers Sinovac Biotech and Sinopharm range from a little over 50 per cent to around 80 per cent in clinical trials. Little is known about their effectiveness against Delta, though a recent study suggested these shots, which use a more traditional technology than mRNA, prevented vaccinated people from developing severe disease in a outbreak in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

The Covid-19 resurgence in South-east Asia and Mexico could help Walvax accelerate its late-stage testing. Less than 20 per cent of Indonesians have been fully vaccinated and transmission of the virus is still broad, though it has moderated from a peak in July.

Mexico is also battling a surge of cases and deaths fueled by Delta. Mr Huang said more trial sites will be announced once countries approve the company's request to conduct them.

"If we are lucky, we can get the results in one or two months. If not, maybe three or four months," Mr Huang said. "We made a step forward and it's been a difficult journey."

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