China plans flu vaccine plant23rd June 2008
A small Canadian biotech firm has announced plans to build and operate a new facility to manufacture influenza vaccine in the central Chinese province of Hunan.
Toronto-based Microbix Biosystems Inc said the plant would cost an estimated C$200 million, and would be one of the largest facilities in the world, producing 100 million doses of flu vaccine annually after it begins production in 2013.
Currently, global annual influenza vaccine capacity is less than 500 million doses.
The news boosted shares in the tiny company, which is listed on on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Share prices rose by 11.3% immediately after the news.
The Hunan provincial government has committed to investing a further C$100 million to the project to produce an initial 100 million doses. Microbix plans to raise another C$100 through licensing partners.
The company now plans to seek regulatory approval for its vaccine in several countries, including the United States, Canada and Europe.
Health authorities in Beijing want to increase the percentage of its vulnerable population that receives the influenza vaccine to 20% from just 2% now. The target coverage will require an additional 400 million doses of vaccine.
Microbix director Mark Cochran said having a vaccinated population was really important for China. But he said the market was also important elsewhere in the world, as a better vaccinated population was likely to better withstand an emerging strain of pandemic influenza.
He said that while the new factory would focus on meeting China's seasonal vaccination needs, the company would also consider exporting the vaccine, depending on the level of demand in China and around the world.
Microbix brings to the deal its Virusmax technology, which enables vaccine plants to produce more vaccine in a shorter time.
The pressure is on to speed up preparedness strategies amid the threat of an influenza pandemic, which experts fear may be caused if the H5N1 avian influenza virus mutates to a form that is easily transmissible between humans. Part of that mutation process has already been observed in one strain of the virus.
A substantial gap remains between supply and demand, global health experts warn.
World Health Organisation officials are discussing plans to further boost production capacity for pandemic vaccines. They plan to continue strongly to support the seasonal influenza vaccination programme, and to use production capacity off-season to make pandemic vaccines.
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Title: China plans flu vaccine plant
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 7246
Date Added: 23rd Jun 2008