By Brenda Goh and Miyoung Kim
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s CanSino Biologics, which recently announced a contract manufacturing deal to support AstraZenca’s messenger RNA (mRNA) technology vaccine programme, is in talks with more firms on similar deals, its CEO said, as it seeks new revenue streams to make up for plummeting COVID vaccine demand.
CanSino begun researching mRNA technology in 2018 and has built a facility in Shanghai that can produce up to 200 million doses a year, giving it the capacity to provide similar services to other companies, CanSino’s CEO and co-founder Xuefeng Yu told Reuters in an interview.
“This is the first step,” he said, describing the AstraZenca deal announced earlier this month as “a business model”.
“We do have discussions with not just the multinational giants, we also discuss with partners in Malaysia, Indonesia and Mexico, Argentina, any market that may need our technology and product.”
AstraZeneca said the deal would support investigational mRNA vaccines early in its pipeline, but the companies have declined to provide any further details.
CanSino, whose one-dose COVID shot is approved for sale in countries including China and Mexico, saw its revenues soar in 2021 at the height of the pandemic, but like many of its peers its sales have since tumbled as demand waned.
CanSino heavily relies on COVID vaccines and meningococcal vaccines for revenue. On Wednesday, it reported a gross loss of 776.5 million yuan ($106.5 million) in the first half, mainly due to reduced COVID vaccine sales and write-downs of unsold COVID vaccines.
Yu expected no further significant writedowns involving unsold COVID vaccines.
The company has paused its clinical trials for mRNA COVID vaccine candidates, and will explore using the technology for other diseases. It is also looking at other uses for its factory in Tianjin which makes its COVID shot, Yu added.
“That facility shares the same platform technology with other vaccines, it could easily be used for other vaccine production,” Yu said. CanSino’s pipeline includes vaccines aimed at infections and diseases such as tetanus and polio.
The company made headlines last year when its inhalable version of COVID vaccine was approved for use in China. It is now developing an inhalable vaccine against the zoster virus, as the inhalable COVID vaccine stimulated strong mucosal immunization and a robust immune response, Yu said.
China’s healthcare industry has in the past month come under pressure from Chinese regulators who launched an anti-corruption campaign targeting rampant graft and bribery in sales practices.
Yu said it would be difficult for him to comment on the campaign’s impact, adding that CanSino was complying with the rules and had an audit and compliance team that reported directly to him.
“I hope the system can go on to the right track and they can encourage the right practices,” he added.
($1 = 7.2899 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Miyoung Kim; editing by Miral Fahmy)