Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical said it will work with German partner BioNTech to develop a new vaccine targeting the omicron variant of COVID-19, but it may take three to four months to win regulatory approval.
Fosun is the exclusive partner of BioNTech for marketing the mRNA vaccine co-developed by BioNTech and U.S. drug giant Pfizer in greater China, which includes Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Known in China as the Comirnaty vaccine, the product has not been approved for the Chinese mainland.
Comirnaty's protection against omicron needs further observation, but the public does not "need to panic," Fosun Executive President Hui Aimin told a vaccine summit recently.
The new variant, which may be highly infectious, has caused global concern because of its high number of mutations. The omicron variant exhibits 32 changes to the coronavirus spike protein, which allows it to penetrate human cells and cause infection. This compares with 16 in the delta variant. But some of the mutations do not necessarily change how the virus responds to vaccines, Hui said.
Major vaccine makers, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are working on omicron-specific shots on expectations that their existing vaccines will be much less effective against omicron than earlier strains.
Some initial data indicates Comirnaty is effective against omicron, but there is no formal documentation yet, Hui said.
BioNTech has not commented on the effectiveness of its current vaccine, but co-founder and CEO Ugur Sahin told The Wall Street Journal that while the new variant might evade vaccine-induced antibodies, the virus is likely to remain vulnerable to immune cells once it enters the body.
Sahin estimated that bringing an omicron-specific vaccine to market would take about 100 days but said that this might not be necessary. He called for speeding up booster shots.
As of Nov. 27, 13.5 million doses of Comirnaty have been administered in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, Hui said at the summit. He did not disclose any update on when Chinese mainland regulators will approve the shot.
The vaccine's approval process in China is moving more slowly than industry experts predicted. Chinese drug regulators completed a review of the Comirnaty vaccine, and the jab is in the administration review stage, Fosun said in July.
The BioNTech chief told Caixin last month that the companies are working to deliver the mRNA vaccines in China, without giving a timetable.
Read also the original story.
Caixinglobal.com is the English-language online news portal of Chinese financial and business news media group Caixin. Nikkei has an agreement with the company to exchange articles in English.