With the race to produce vaccines one of the biggest challenges of our time, China may soon have its very own domestically produced messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine.
The revolutionary vaccine technology has only been applied to the Pfizer-BioNtech and the Moderna vaccines so far and is hailed for its ability to generate a stronger form of immunity.
The mRNA vaccine was developed by the Academy of Military Science (AMS), Walvax Biotechnology and Suzhou Abogen Bioscience.
China’s new vaccine candidate may be ready to be rolled out before the end of this year, according to Feng Duojia, President of China Association of Vaccines.
The first and second phase trials are complete, with “satisfactory results”. The third phase trials, currently underway at multiple overseas locations, are going “very well”, according to Feng.
Feng expressed concerns about the race against time for Chinese vaccine developers, with manufacturing facilities being built before late-stage clinical trials had been concluded.
Walvax started construction on a vaccine manufacturing facility in December 2020. Based in Yunnan Province, the production hub will have an annual output of 120 million vaccines, according to the South China Morning Post.
Although China is a relative latecomer to mRNA technology, the product’s intellectual property and innovations were all home-grown said Feng. The core technologies could also be applied effectively in other vaccines, should a new pandemic outbreak occur in the future.
The most common and widely used COVID-19 vaccine technology uses dead coronavirus matter to stimulate the immune system into fighting off the infection.
New mRNA vaccine technology, used by the likes of Pfizer and Moderna, employ messenger RNA to copy the virus’s genetic makeup and train the immune system into mounting an appropriate immune response.
Although new, the technology presents several significant benefits, including a shorter development cycle, helping scientists deal with multiple variants of the virus.
Also, mRNA technology uses no live viral matter which means development cycles are far safer.
Notably, the Chinese mRNA candidate can also be kept at room temperature for up to a week, whereas the Pfizer and Moderna candidates needs some refrigeration.
The AMS-Abogen-Walvax candidate also uses its own Lipid Nanoparticles, a fine, oily coating around the mRNA, and a key technology in the vaccine’s delivery system.
At present only Acuitas (Canada), Merck and Evonik (both Germany) and Corden Pharma (Switzerland) have access to and supply the technology.
Along with the AMS-Abogen-Walvax candidate, Shanghai-based medical firm, Stemirna Therapeutics and Shanghai-East Hospital have also started trials with mRNA candidates.