China’s Sinopharm reports strong interim results for its Covid-19 vaccine

Simone McCarthy
·4-min read

A vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) has been found to be 79.34 per cent effective against Covid-19, according to an interim analysis, the company said.

The vaccine was shown to be safe, and participants receiving the two-dose course produced a high level of antibodies against the virus at a rate of 99.52 per cent, according to a statement posted on Wednesday by the company’s subsidiary Beijing Institute of Biological Products – which has also formally submitted an application to China’s regulators for conditional listing, it said.

Few further details were given – including critical information about the number of people evaluated to reach the results, or which data had been analysed.

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The vaccine is in clinical trials in several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Peru and Argentina.

On December 9, UAE health authorities said the vaccine had proven to be 86 per cent effective in an interim analysis of late-stage clinical trials. The vaccine has already been approved in the UAE and Bahrain.

The vaccine is among those already in use in China under an emergency use authorisation programme launched in July.

Health authorities earlier this month said they were evaluating data from vaccines that were advanced in final phase trials on a rolling basis, and would release data to the public “in time” after trials were unblinded.

Data for the vaccine candidate from the institute’s sister company, Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, has yet to be released.

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Another Chinese firm, Sinovac, has a candidate in human trials in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia, but reporting of its detailed results were postponed until next month. Turkey’s health authority announced last week that its trial showed this vaccine to be 91.25 per cent effective, but the finding was based on preliminary results from a small clinical trial and none of the data has been peer reviewed.

Shanghai vaccine expert Tao Lina said the efficacy results for the Beijing Institute vaccine – which uses conventional inactivated technology involving a killed virus – was lower than most vaccines using the same method – such as those for polio, hepatitis A or hand, foot and mouth disease.

Nevertheless, it was not a bad result against a new virus and industry processes could be improved in time to improve efficacy, he said.

“At the beginning, we thought a vaccine with 70 per cent efficacy would be good enough, but the high efficacy reported by Moderna and BioNTech set the bar too high and people might feel disappointed when comparing the efficacy rates,” he said. The two mRNA vaccines have shown efficacy of more than 94 per cent.

“The difference in technology means mRNA vaccines will have a higher efficacy than the inactivated vaccines. It is like, one vaccine targets the ammunition in the key point, and the other [targets] all the points, so naturally the effect will be weaker.”

But Tao said the efficacy of the Beijing Institute’s vaccine had surpassed the approval threshold and its excellent safety data was an important aspect that needed to be considered in evaluating the different vaccines.

“From the published data, the inactivated Covid-19 vaccines have much fewer and lighter adverse events. It is something to be taken into consideration when hundreds of millions of people are to take vaccines,” he said.

The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which regulates China National Pharmaceutical Group, the parent company of the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, said in a statement on Wednesday that the vaccines should be assessed according to their overall performance and not just a single parameter of efficacy.

All of the vaccines approved for emergency use had produced high levels of antibodies that could in theory fight off the coronavirus, it said.

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The Sinopharm vaccine also had the advantage of convenient transport and storage, as well as a guaranteed production capacity, it added.

“The inactivated Covid-19 vaccines by Sinopharm can be transported and stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (35.6 to 46.4 Fahrenheit) and remain stable for 24 months, which is an obvious advantage. The cold chain involved fits in what is already available in most countries, therefore significantly increasing the accessibility of the vaccines,” the statement said.

According to the statement, production capacity of the two Sinopharm facilities in Wuhan and Beijing will reach 1 billion doses next year, matching the production capacity of other global vaccine candidates.

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