Coronavirus: China breaks ground on mRNA vaccine plant

Ji Siqi
·2-min read

China has started building a plant to make a potential coronavirus vaccine using next-generation mRNA technology, according to state media.

China News Service reported on Monday that construction of a facility to manufacture a messenger RNA vaccine candidate was under way in Yunnan province, in the country’s southwest.

The candidate is still in the initial phase of clinical trials and developed jointly by the PLA Academy of Military Science, Walvax Biotechnology and Suzhou Abogen Biosciences.

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Li Yunchun, chairman of Shenzhen-listed Walvax, said the new plant would be up and running in eight months, and the vaccine would be available in the second half of next year, according to the report. The facility is expected to have an annual capacity of 120 million doses.

It is common practice for pharmaceutical firms to prepare for mass production before a vaccine gets regulatory approval.

Sinovac started building a plant to make its inactivated CoronaVac vaccine in Beijing in March, even before it entered phase one clinical trials.

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The mRNA technology is the same as the approach used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which have been authorised for emergency use in the United States.

It triggers immunisation by sending instructions to human cells to make proteins that mimic part of the virus.

Compared with traditional inactivated vaccines, such as the ones developed by China National Biotec Group and Sinovac, the mRNA technology is theoretically safer and easier for large-scale production, because it does not involve live viruses.

But no mRNA vaccine has been licensed for broad use before, so there will be more challenges in ramping up manufacturing to meet the surging demand.

In November, Pfizer halved its original end-of-year goal of shipping 100 million doses of its mRNA vaccine because of problems sourcing raw materials and building supply chains.

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