AstraZeneca Strikes Deal to Produce Covid-19 Vaccine for China

AstraZeneca has promised to provide more than two billion doses of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine for the world.

Photo: paul ellis/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

AstraZeneca AZN 0.46% PLC has agreed to have a Chinese drugmaker produce hundreds of millions of doses of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine for use in China if it is approved by regulators there, a deal that expands China’s access to potential vaccine options.

Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products Co. will be able to manufacture at least 100 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine by year’s end, and at least 200 million by the end of 2021, according to statements by both companies Thursday.

AstraZeneca, which has promised to provide more than two billion doses of its experimental vaccine for the world, has struck up deals to sell its vaccine to the U.S. and Europe. The British company is also working with the Serum Institute of India to provide one billion doses for low and middle-income countries.

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It said the agreement with Kangtai was an exclusive one for the mainland Chinese market.

China is developing several vaccine candidates of its own, although the deal suggests that Chinese leaders and scientists believe that the domestic market could benefit from more vaccine options. The country is following in the footsteps of nations like the U.S., which earlier in the year pledged $1.2 billion to secure at least 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

Co-developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, the experimental vaccine AZD1222 is among the world’s most advanced vaccine candidates, and is being tested in late-stage, or Phase 3, studies in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa. Moderna Inc. and competitor Pfizer Inc. both launched Phase 3 U.S. studies of their vaccine candidates in late July, as did China’s drugmakers Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and China National Biotec Group Co.

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AstraZeneca is expected to start a Phase 3 U.S. study this month.

Unlike a similar vaccine candidate by China’s CanSino Biologics Inc., which is based on a virus found in humans, the Oxford vaccine uses a virus from the chimpanzee, meaning people are less likely to have pre-existing immunity to it.

It couldn’t be determined how the agreement with Kangtai came together. AstraZeneca said it was the only multinational pharmaceutical company to send a representative to a business forum with Chinese President Xi Jinping in late July.

Mr. Xi “hopes we can overcome challenges amid the epidemic and to be our best selves,” Wang Lei, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president, said in an interview with state-run China Central Television after the forum.

Kangtai, one of the world’s major producers of the hepatitis B vaccine, has previously said it will invest one billion yuan ($143.8 million) to build a manufacturing plant for Covid-19 vaccines with a capacity of 100 million doses a year. It has been earmarked by authorities as an emergency health project and is expected to be completed as early as the end of August.

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China’s National Medical Products Administration, which approves drugs and vaccines for public use in the country, hasn’t yet greenlighted AstraZeneca’s vaccine. The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine what sort of clinical tests in China the vaccine would need to undergo. Kangtai said it would be responsible for trials and communication with Chinese authorities as needed.

Foreign drugmakers are known to pair with Chinese companies to help streamline the regulatory approval process. Germany’s BioNTech SE is collaborating with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Co. to test its vaccine candidate in China and potentially distribute it there.

AstraZeneca and Kangtai will also “explore the possibility of cooperation on the vaccine candidate in other markets,” AstraZeneca China said.

Kangtai makes vaccine shots to prevent flu, pneumonia, measles and rubella. It is working on developing other Covid-19 vaccine candidates, including one in collaboration with Beijing-based Advaccine Biotechnology Co.

Write to Chao Deng at [email protected] and Joseph Walker at [email protected]

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