Will a Little-Known Chinese Biotech Firm Beat Global Behemoths in Coronavirus Vaccine Race?

Chinese company CanSino is giving pharmaceutical giants like Moderna, AstraZeneca, Gilead Sciences and Sanofi a run for their money.

Earlier this week, the Chinese military was cleared to use the Covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by its research unit and CanSino Biologics after clinical trials proved that it was safe and showed some efficacy. Until some time back, not too many outside China had heard CanSino's nam. However, the company has now became one of the global frontrunners in developing a vaccine to treat the deadly coronavirus.

Today, CanSino is giving pharmaceutical giants like Moderna, AstraZeneca, Gilead Sciences and Sanofi a run for their money after having silently advanced in the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. Interestingly, most of the top bosses in this Chinese biotech firm, who can take the credit for bringing the global spotlight on the company, were at one point working with some of the most prominent drugmakers who are now its biggest rivals.

In the Big League

CanSino, which not even a decade onld. is yet to register revenues YouTube Grab

The race to develop a vaccine to treat coronavirus began almost instantly after the outbreak. Most big names like Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Gilead, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Adaptive started working on their respective vaccine candidates in February. Human trials began sometime in April.

Till then, CanSino's name featured nowhere and most even didn't know that the Chinese biotech firm was also ramping up its R&D to develop a vaccine. It was only in May that the spotlight shifted to CanSino after it became the first company to publish a complete scientific study of its early human trials of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate, leaving behind the likes of Moderna and AstraZeneca. Human trials are considered an important step as it allows researchers and scientists to gauge the potential of a vaccine.

Although it is too early to predict if CanSino's vaccine candidate will work miracles in the future by treating coronavirus, it definitely proves that China, which till a decade ago was nowhere in contention, is fast emerging as a global contender in biotechnology. And CanSino's rise to the top comes amid growing scandals and safety issues in China's biotechnology industry.

The Rise of CanSino

Vaccine Human Trial
Eralier this week, China’s military was cleared to use CanSino Biologics' Covid-19 vaccine candidate YouTube Grab

Developed jointly by CanSino and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology in the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, the vaccine candidate Ad5-nCoV has reportedly shown promising results in the Phase 2 clinical trials, although the results are yet to be published. The vaccine candidate was found to be safe and effective in generating an immune response against SARS-CoV-2 in humans in the phase 1 trials last month.

That definitely is a big achievement for a biotech company that was formed just about a decade back. The idea to form a China-based biotech company germinated in the minds of a bunch of Chinese scientists who met over a barbecue and beer party in Toronto. The Chinese scientists were employed in Canadian companies and were discussing how China has lagged the world in developing effective vaccines. Four of them decided to change things, left their cushy jobs in Canada and came back to their homeland to set up a biotech firm in Tianjin.

The idea was to produce vaccines that would match global standards. Soon the ball was set rolling. CanSino is yet to generate revenues and last year registered losses of $22 million. However, that hasn't dampened the spirits of its bosses and employees.

The company's CEO Yu Xuefeng, who was a senior executive at Sanofi Canada, has managed to maintain a good relationship with Canada although geopolitical tensions continue to polarize both the countries. So much so, that he even managed to tie up with Canada's biggest research organization, first to work on a vaccine for Ebola, and now for coronavirus. Yu says that the company's ties with Canada have only strengthened over the years. And perhaps that's also the reason behind choosing CanSino as the company's name. CanSino is a combination of the word Canada and China.

Related topics : Coronavirus