Pfizer endorses CanSino’s meningitis vaccine, giving Chinese biotech company a shot in the arm

CanSino Biologics, the first Chinese company to trial a Covid-19 vaccine on humans, has received another boost after one of its products was endorsed by Pfizer.
The Hong Kong-listed company, due to float shares on the mainland’s Nasdaq-style Star Market to fund the expansion of its production capacity, signed an agreement with the US global pharmaceutical giant on Saturday, under which Pfizer will broadly promote Menhycia, CanSino’s meningitis vaccine candidate in China. No other details were revealed.
The vaccine offers protection against the severe infectious disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, which mostly affects children between the ages of six months to five years old. Vaccination is considered to be an effective and affordable measure to prevent the disease, but CanSino’s candidate is yet to be approved by the China National Medical Products Administration (NMPA).
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“The agreement paves a way for a deepened tie-up with (Pfizer) and strengthens our commercial capabilities,” said Yu Xuefeng, co-founder and chairman of CanSino. “It also lays a solid foundation for CanSino to consolidate a foothold in China while going international.”
The endorsement, the first for a mainland vaccine developer, is significant after the country was hit by a scandal that triggered a crisis of confidence in the domestic vaccine industry, said pharmaceutical executives, who did not want to be named.
In 2018, Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology was founded to have supplied ineffective DPT (diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) vaccines for babies, and forged data on its rabies vaccine production procedures.
The partnership shows CanSino’s product meets global standards, but the country’s overall vaccine industry still has a long way to go to convince people of their products’ safety and effectiveness, the executives said.
Menhycia is one of 16 vaccines currently under development at CanSino. In December, the NMPA said it would prioritise the review of the vaccine, which signalled that it would receive approval soon. Figures from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention showed that some 3.4 millions doses of meningitis vaccines, the same category as CanSino’s candidate, were given in the mainland last year.
Cansino is also co-developing a Covid-19 vaccine, Ad5-nCov, with a research unit of the Chinese military. The vaccine candidate has completed phase two trial and phase three trial is expected to start soon.
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Earlier this week, CanSino said the results of the phase two trial, which was tested in 508 healthy adults, were positive. The vaccine, which uses a genetically modified human adenovirus to carry the genetic code for Covid-19 proteins to the body, induced neutralising antibody responses to the novel virus.
CanSino’s Yu, however, remained tight-lipped on the coronavirus vaccine.
On July 15, CanSino received approval from the mainland securities regulator to float 24.8 million shares on the Star Market. The biotech firm, which has yet to begin price consultation for the A shares, could raise about US$688 million based on its Hong Kong closing price of HK$215 on Friday.
In its prospectus, CanSino said 1 billion yuan (US$142.9 million) of the proceeds would be used to expand its production base, develop new vaccines, construct a cold-chain logistics system and improve its IT infrastructure. The Tianjin-based company, set up in 2009, has yet to generate revenue and posted loss of US$22 million last year.
“CanSino will be a new darling of mainland investors as its research strength makes it one of the stars amid the country’s efforts to stay ahead in the technology race between the US and China,” said Ivan Li, a money manager at Shanghai-based Loyal Wealth Management.
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