The World Health Organization is expected shortly to approve a Chinese-made vaccine for aid agency use. The vaccine is to combat Japanese encephalitis, a mosquito-borne disease prevalent in Southeast Asia that can be fatal especially in children. Some 50,000 cases a year are reported, with a quarter to a third fatal and a third of survivors suffering long-term disability.
Approval would mark a milestone for China’s pharmaceutical industry. It would be a first such pre-qualification for one of its products, and a gateway to lucrative global markets. The U.N.’s children’s welfare agency, Unicef, alone buys vaccines for 70 million children a year.
The vaccine is made by the Chengdu Institute of Biological Products, a unit of China National Biotec Group (CNBG), which, in turn, is part of the giant SinoPharm. CNBG can boast that every Chinese has been vaccinated by at least one of its products.
In March last year, the WHO certified the national drug approval agency, which opened the door to Chinese manufacturers applying for pre-qualification of their drugs. The Chendgu Insitute did so at the beginning of this year.
The company says that as of the end of 2010 it had already supplied 141 million doses of the vaccine to the region. Pre-qualification will help it expand that number greatly, and provide a boost to China’s fast-growing phama industry, not least by giving it a WHO quality stamp of approval.