The China National Pharmaceutical Group (CNBG)'s Omicron-specific mRNA COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for clinical trials, the Chinese pharmaceutical giant announced on Friday. Developed by CNBG-Virogin Biotech (Shanghai), which operates under China's state-owned Sinopharm, the vaccine is China's first Omicron-specific mRNA vaccine able to encode the full-length S protein of the Omicron variant.
Zhang Yuntao, vice president and chief scientist of CNBG, hailed the latest mRNA vaccine progress as a "milestone" after the group on Wednesday revealed that it has developed four potential Omicron-specific candidate vaccines, including inactivated, recombinant protein and mRNA vaccines, as well as a very effective preventative inhaled monoclonal antibody product.
According to Jia Weiguo, a scientist at CNBG, the mRNA vaccine uses a novel antigen design to further improve its ability to induce effective neutralizing antibodies, and has shown protection in susceptible animal models.
The vaccine's development takes aim at world-leading technologies, and its advanced mRNA-LNP encapsulation technology can further guarantee the production capacity of the vaccine, Jia told media.
CNBG-Virogin Biotech (Shanghai) has built a pilot mRNA vaccine research and development platform covering design to production and an intelligent mRNA vaccine production facility with an annual capacity of 2 billion doses.
The company has also developed a response capacity to develop mRNA vaccines against sudden infectious diseases in a short period of time and to rapidly scale up production.
Subsequent clinical trials will further evaluate the safety, immunogenicity and protective efficacy of the mRNA vaccine.
Gao Fu, former head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggested Wednesday that vaccines against mutant strains of COVID-19 should be approved for use as soon as possible, considering the risk of local infections of Omicron XBB and its subvariants. He also noted that with the Spring Festival travel rush involving over 2 billion trips, an increase in infections may appear in some rural areas.
Based on incomplete statistics, there are more than 10 domestic companies working on COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
Considering that many overseas countries have had repeated infections after the pandemic has entered the regular management phase and that strains are still evolving and mutating, mRNA vaccines will be in regular demand, Chinese experts said.
In the future, China will continue to optimize immunization strategies, as COVID-19 is most likely to become a strain similar to seasonal flu. For high-risk groups, booster shots will be needed every year to protect against severe cases and reduce deaths, they added.
More than 3.5 billion doses of Sinopharm's vaccines have been produced and provided by the group to nearly 200 nations and regions so far, media reported.