Sinopharm Says Shot 79% Effective and Seeks General Use in China

State-backed vaccine developer China National Biotec Group Co. said one of its shots is effective in preventing Covid-19 in 79.3% of people, allowing it to apply for authorization to market the inoculation for use in the general population.

The interim data shows the vaccine, which is already authorized for emergency use in China, is safe and people who took the shots in the trial all generated high levels of antibodies, according to a statement posted on the website of Beijing Biological Products Institute Co., a subsidiary of CNBG’s parent Sinopharm.

The rate for the vaccine -- one of two developed by CNBG -- meets the minimum standard of 50% efficacy set by U.S. regulators for emergency authorization of Covid vaccines. However, vaccines using cutting-edge messenger RNA technology from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. have produced far better results, reducing symptomatic Covid cases by well over 90% in giant trials.

The rate announced Wednesday for the CNBG shot is also lower than what was reported from trials of the vaccine in the United Arab Emirates, which put the protection level at 86%.

CNBG, which submitted an application to Chinese regulators for the vaccine last month, could become the first developer outside of Russia to see its shots made available for general public use, underscoring China’s determination to be a major player in supplying inoculations to countries around the world. Other countries have given the go-ahead to rival western vaccines for emergency-use only.

Yet China faces a challenge in assuring governments and millions of people who may have to rely on its vaccines of their safety and efficacy. Chinese developers have been slow compared with their western peers in releasing data, risking an erosion of confidence in these candidates as the world puts a laser focus on which vaccines are most successful in fighting the pandemic.

The lack of transparency was evident last week, as trials for a vaccine of Chinese developer Sinovac Biotech Ltd. showed confusing results on exactly how effective it is in protecting people against Covid-19.

A Brazilian official said the Sinovac shot didn’t reach 90% efficacy, while Turkey said a trial in its country showed a rate of 91%. Sinovac is still reconciling results of independent phase III trials carried out in Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and Chile, a person familiar with the trials said last week.

Both Sinopharm and Sinovac are betting on successful vaccines to inoculate more people around the world and save lives. The Chinese vaccines could also help their home country win geopolitical influence and restore an image tarnished by the criticism of its initial response to the virus.

Global Promise

China has agreed to supply its vaccines to Covax, a World Health Organization-backed effort to provide inoculations to developing nations. The Chinese vaccines have the advantage of easier storage and distribution as they don’t need to be frozen -- unlike those from Pfizer and Moderna. They can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, making distribution to rural areas and developing countries easier.

A state-owned drugmaker that has a dominant share of China’s vaccine market, CNBG in April was among the world’s first to push experimental shots to the crucial final stage of human testing. The company’s research institutes developed two shots using an inactivated version of the virus to stimulate immune response, an approach widely adopted by many of the existing vaccines used to prevent illness around the world.

CNBG has vaccine supply agreements with several developing countries including Malaysia, Brazil, Pakistan and the UAE, according to public reports compiled by Bloomberg. Leading Western developers like AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer have inked agreements with far more countries.

Despite the fact that China’s vaccines haven’t yet received regulatory approval for widespread use, doses have already been given to hundreds of thousands of people in China under an emergency-use program in place since mid-year. That has raised concern among scientists of potential risks in using shots whose safety and efficacy have yet to be thoroughly studied.

About one million Chinese have already been given inoculations as of Dec. 19, a large portion of the more than 5.1 million shots administered so far across the globe, according to data collected by Bloomberg.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.