By Esther Nakkazi
Tuberculosis vaccines may become affordable and readily available to the developing world, as China’s expanding role as a vaccine manufacturer becomes visible in global health.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) about 2 billion people live with latent TB and globally it is responsible for the death of 1.4 million people annually. Vaccines are the most cost-effective biomedical intervention in medical history.
But as much as tuberculosis has created a public health crisis in the developing world, it is also a major public health priority in China, where there are more than one million new TB cases every year.
Last week, January 10th, Aeras the leading non-profit developer of TB vaccine candidates and China National Biotec Group (CNBG) the largest biotechnology corporation in China signed an agreement to develop new TB vaccines.
"The synergy created by bringing together our scientific and manufacturing expertise could have a substantial impact on efforts to advance innovative candidates in TB vaccine development," said Jim Connolly, President and CEO of Aeras.
Aeras will provide financial support and technical expertise - licensing its recombinant BCG platform - which aims to improve upon the current TB vaccine - and other technologies to CNBG.
While multiple research institutes in China operating under the umbrella of CNBG will be engaged in the development, manufacturing and distribution of affordable new TB vaccines for use globally.
The team will engineer a variety of candidate booster vaccines to match the new constructs with a goal to create more efficacious and longer-lasting protection against TB disease.
China expanding role as a vaccine manufacturer;
But in a bigger picture, the move shows the growing trend of collaborations between Chinese vaccine manufacturers and multinational players. Chinese vaccines are hitting the world market rapidly and its manufacturing capacity is improving.
Scientists claim Chinese-made vaccines will become more widely available to the global market within five years. Today, China’s 40 domestic vaccine manufacturers produce 49 types of vaccines that protect against 27 diseases, according to the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR).
The industry’s massive annual output totals nearly 1 billion doses, the world’s highest yield in terms of a single national economy’s vaccine output.
“Lots of Chinese labs, buildings, hardware, and equipment are as good as those of multinationals, if not better,” said Kewen Jin, the General Manager, Aura Partners at the Pacific Health Summit.
WHO is closely working with Chinese vaccine manufacturers- providing training for inspectors and auditors- and also approved China’s State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) in March 2011 as a functional regulatory authority for vaccines.
Chinese-made vaccines approved by the SFDA thus ultimately match international quality standards.
But specifically, China’s entry into the world vaccine market could result in two particularly game-changing turning points: lowering global procurement prices and reducing supply shortages.
Universally, China is known for its low-priced products that may go for Chinese-made vaccines too and has the potential to bring more vaccines to more countries and people.
Markets guaranteed to be impacted include the GAVI-eligible countries-including all east African countries- as GAVI is likely to be a high-volume purchaser of prequalified Chinese- made vaccines, confirmed NBR.
However, as acknowledged by Pacific Health Summit participants in Seattle last year, the traditionally low price points of Chinese-made products have contributed to low public confidence and perceptions of poorer product quality.
The world’s perception of ‘China price’ of Chinese-made vaccines may be inaccurate with its long experience producing traditional vaccines and big volumes of manufacturing levels, said Jack Zhang the director China Program, PATH.
But certainly, China’s entry in the global market means an overall average price drop for vaccines, which could make a difference for the world to meet the Millennium Development Goals and in this Aeras and CNBG collaboration for Tuberculosis.