China’s approval of drug Pfizer opens the door to end COVID with zero

China’s surprise decision to remove Pfizer Inc’s coronavirus pill. COVID Zero Strategy that makes it increasingly isolated.

Paxlovid’s Accept the condition Over the weekend, it became the first foreign pharmaceutical product China confirmed for COVID-19, with the country so far sticking to domestically developed vaccines and treatments. , even refused approval for the high potency mRNA shot co-produced by Pfizer and BioNTech SE.

Zeng Guang, a former principal scientist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention who has advised Beijing on COVID-19 control, told investors during a briefing held by Sealand Securities. on Saturday, hours after it was approved. was announced. The move, he suggested, could lay the groundwork for China’s COVID containment regime gradually giving way to a more flexible approach, according to a transcript confirmed by Bloomberg News and Sealand.
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“China will not isolate itself from the rest of the world and has various means to change its strategy,” Zeng said during the event. “Strategy before action”.

Zeng’s lesson is echoed by experts and analysts familiar with China’s virus approach.

The country is the last major economy still trying to eliminate COVID, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of more contagious variants such as Omicron and Delta. The lower effectiveness of China’s domestically produced vaccines is seen as the main reason behind the ongoing strategy, and having an effective antiviral drug in the country’s arsenal could help. minimize that disadvantage if the virus is allowed to circulate more freely.

“Hopefully it shows that they are prepared not to have any problems,” said Sophia Archuleta, head of the infectious disease department at the National University Hospital of Singapore and an associate professor at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. “If and when COVID becomes more prevalent in the community, they have an effective drug that they can deploy.”

Pharmaceutical nationalism

The conditional approval is an important milestone in the fight against COVID-19 and reflects the government’s effort to increase access to innovative drugs in China, Pfizer said in a statement. dad on Monday.

Paxlovid’s approval also allayed concerns that China, the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical market, is actively avoiding foreign treatments when it comes to COVID. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, licensed to Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., Ltd. in China, remains not yet rubber stamped for use there, several months after submitting the application. Nearly 90% of the country is now fully immunized, and many more are being boosted, with less potent domestic vaccines.

“A foreign pill for COVID is much less radioactive than approving a foreign vaccine, because the vaccine is important,” said Michael Shoebridge, director of defense, strategy and national security. center of the soft power race and a point of national pride.” at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a Canberra think tank.

Statistical modeling by Chinese experts suggests that the country could see more than 600,000 infections per day if current restrictions are lifted, a vision that is hard to achieve in a place that has proven itself to be difficult. has seen fewer than 5,000 COVID deaths since quelling the first major outbreak in Wuhan. But such a prospect underscores China’s need for the Pfizer pill, which has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% and potentially lead to less strain on the system. China’s untested hospital system.

‘Excessive delay’

Like vaccines, China has several domestic COVID antiviral candidates that are in the final stages of development, but progress is slow. Vaccination rates are increasing worldwide, along with Reduce the toxicity of Omicron, making it harder to prove they can avoid hospitalization and death. One of China’s most advanced COVID drugs, from Suzhou-based Kintor Pharmaceutical Ltd, has had to run a second late-stage trial in multiple countries after the first trial in the US failed to show any results. The results are significant in the context of very low hospitalization rates.

Brad Loncar, chief executive officer of Loncar Investments, said: “This approval is likely China’s calculation that relying on its own antiretroviral drugs to end its no-COVID policy will cause further disruption. too late, compared to the rest of the open world,” said Brad Loncar, chief executive officer of Loncar Investments, who closely follows the China Biotech Industry. “It is positive to see that China prioritizes rejoining the global network over adopting a more nationalist stance.”

Zhang Jialin, head of China healthcare research at Nomura Holdings Inc. says its global supply of Paxlovid in 2022 is just 120 million treatments.

Executives at Shanghai Junshi Biosciences Co, which is in the final stages of testing an antiviral drug in China and abroad, told investors over the weekend that China’s move Paxlovid’s approval reflects Beijing’s recognition that the pill will play a role in ending the pandemic, according to a company spokesman. Shares of Junshi rose more than 5% on Monday in Hong Kong.

“It creates favorable conditions for a return to normal in mainland China, including exchanges with the rest of the world,” said Nomura’s Zhang. “But more details need to be learned.”

—With support from Dong Cao.

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