Two inactivated coronavirus vaccine candidates have recently received approval from the Chinese authorities to begin phase I and II clinical trials simultaneously.
The experimental vaccines are being developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products under the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), and Sinovac Research and Development Co., Ltd, a company based in Beijing.
This latest progress comes after the recombinant novel coronavirus vaccine from a Chinese team led by China’s military medical expert Chen Wei was greenlighted for clinical trials on March 17.
Vaccines are commonly regarded as the most powerful scientific tool in fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic. “China is leading the global research and development into vaccines against COVID-19,” explained Wang Junzhi, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, according to a report by Science and Technology Daily.
Wang attributed such rapid progress to early and scientific engagement with the work, utilising targeted directions and concerted efforts.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has also repeatedly stressed the need to step-up the development of vaccines for COVID-19. The Central Guidance Group has decided to press the fast-forward button for the coronavirus vaccine development on the premise of safety.
On Jan. 21, the Ministry of Science and Technology announced it was forming a 14-member scientific research expert group headed by Dr Zhong Nanshan.
The group has identified five simultaneous technical approaches for developing COVID-19 vaccines, namely, inactivated vaccines, recombinant protein vaccines, adenovirus vector vaccines, vaccines using attenuated influenza viruses as vectors, and nucleic acid vaccines.
As of April 2, all 108 of the volunteers for phase I clinical trials have received injections of the recombinant novel coronavirus vaccine. Recruiting volunteers for phase II of the trials – which will also introduce placebo control groups – started on April 9.
According to Lei Chaozi, head of the Department of Science and Technology at the Ministry of Education, the other three approaches all went smoothly.
The vaccines using attenuated influenza viruses as vectors are being applied to experimental animals, with completion of pre-clinical research and an application for clinical trials expected to come by the end of April. The recombinant protein vaccines have been tested on mice and rabbits, while Chinese scientists have mastered the technology behind mass-producing high-quality and high-purity vaccine proteins. The nucleic acid vaccines are a new form of vaccine technology currently being explored globally, with no such human vaccines available anywhere in the world.