China is doubling down in the global push for a coronavirus vaccine
Inside China’s new lab conducting late-stage vaccine trials 02:25
(CNN)The global push to develop a coronavirus vaccine is gathering pace, but much to the likely frustration of US President Donald Trump, caution exercised by American drug makers and regulators has put China out in front … for now.Moderna, a leading coronavirus vaccine maker, said this month it will not be ready to apply for emergency use authorization until at least November 25. Meanwhile, the US-based trial sites of another frontrunner, AstraZeneca, have placed testing on hold after a participant in Britain developed a serious illness last month, further undermining Trump’s hopes that a vaccine would be ready in time for Election Day on November 3.The stringent US safety protocols have shifted the so-called vaccine race in China’s favor, where — for better or worse — political will holds a much larger sway over state, commercial and individual actions, potentially bending rules or norms as needed.China’s leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly urged the country’s scientists to accelerate the research and development of coronavirus vaccines. Chinese drug makers have also been told to treat their work as an “important political task” — and they are doing everything they can to follow that directive.And while the successful development of a vaccine would not preclude other countries from continuing to pursue their own research, China has placed special emphasis on being first.As of October, four of the 10 Covid-19 vaccine candidates that have entered Phase 3 clinical trials worldwide — the last and most important step of testing before regulatory approval is sought — were developed by Chinese companies.Two are from China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a unit of state-owned pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm). Another candidate, CoronaVac, was developed by drugmaker Sinovac Biotech, with the remaining one jointly developed by the Chinese military-linked Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and vaccine company CanSino Biologics.
Two coronavirus vaccine candidates from the China National Biotec Group (CNBG) are now in phase 3 clinical trials.CNBG Chairman Yang Xiaoming said last month that the progress of its vaccines was going “faster than expected.” The company has carried out Phase 3 trials in countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Peru, Morocco, and Argentina, with a total of 42,000 participants.”We’re only one last mile away from eventual success,” he recently told a bioindustry conference in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected last December.Wu Guizhen, the chief bio-safety expert at China’s Disease Control and Prevention Center,told state broadcaster CCTV last month that the country’s coronavirus vaccines could be ready for general public use as early as November.”I believe it’s very likely they’ll be the first to announce the successful development of a vaccine,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.”But the key question is how well the international society, especially the scientific community, will recognize it.”
“Spirit of sacrifice”
A vaccine usually takes years to develop. But to stop a virus that has killed more than a million people worldwide, scientists are developing Covid-19 vaccines at unprecedented speed. In China, efforts to ramp up that process have included the controversial testing of hundreds of thousands of people outside the normal regulatory approval process.Since July, Chinese drug makers have been administering experimental vaccines on people working in “high-risk” professions — including medical workers and border agents — under a government-approved emergency use program, which allows vaccine candidates to be used on a limited scale before their safety and efficacy have been fully proven by clinical trials.