CanSino Says Vaccine Demand Has Fallen After China’s Mass Covid Infections

Chinese pharmaceutical giant CanSino Biologics said demand for its Covid-19 vaccine had “slackened” in China following the abrupt end of the country’s strict zero-Covid policy, underscoring the challenges facing the sector in the largest remaining undervaccinated market stands.

CanSino was in the process of rolling out an inhaled version of a coronavirus vaccine when China lifted lockdown restrictions in early December. The vaccine had received emergency use authorization, adding to the existing dozen domestic vaccines serving the Chinese population.

Yu Xuefeng, co-founder and chief executive of the Tianjin-based group, said it introduced “millions of doses” before the “surprise end of zero-Covid.” But Yu added that the campaign was outpaced by the virus, which infected an estimated 80 percent of the population in a matter of weeks.

“We wanted to deliver our vaccine as soon as possible to buy time against the virus. But at the end of the day, I believe the virus has spread much faster than we expected,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Chinese health officials are advising infected patients to wait six months after recovery before getting a booster shot, leading to a drop in demand for vaccines after the majority of the population contracted the virus within a short period of time.

CanSino is developing a messenger RNA vaccine candidate that has shown “positive results” in phase 2 clinical trials in China, according to Yu. According to the company, it had demonstrated a “high safety profile” and a stronger immune response than the incumbent companies’ “inactivated” vaccine technology. This could be the first mRNA product to be used for therapeutic purposes in China if it receives regulatory approval.

Beijing has refused to import BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA syringes for its local population, despite research showing they offer higher and longer-lasting protection than the widely used inactivated vaccines from Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac.

CanSino has two R&D teams, one in Tianjin focusing on the inhaled viral vector vaccine and the second in Shanghai, where more than 200 employees are working on the development and manufacturing of its mRNA vaccine. Yu said the group has built a manufacturing facility in the southern coastal city to produce about 100 million doses of the mRNA vaccine annually, with the option to scale back production if demand is weak.

Yu proposes the mRNA shot to be part of a list of booster shots to protect against new strains of Covid, similar to the annual flu shot. He estimated the annual global industry revenue from Covid vaccines at $5 billion. “This is not a small market,” he said.

CanSino announced last month that it was considering a listing in Switzerland, part of a growing trend by Chinese groups to diversify their investor base away from the US and China. Its Hong Kong-listed shares rose as much as 70 percent when it announced approval of its inhaled vaccine in November, but have since fallen 55 percent from that peak.

Additional reporting by Wang Xueqiao in Shanghai CanSino Says Vaccine Demand Has Fallen After China’s Mass Covid Infections

Adam Bradshaw

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