Sinovac snags $515M investment to double COVID-19 vaccine capacity as phase 3 readout nears

As the various COVID-19 vaccines move closer to the finish line, their developers have been raising money from investors or through advance government purchases to ramp up manufacturing. Now, a Chinese company has done the same for its candidate.

Sinovac Biotech netted $515 million in investment from local firm Sino Biopharmaceutical, which in exchange gets a 15.03% stake in Sinovac Life Sciences, a subsidiary of the Nasdaq-listed vaccine specialist.

The money will help fund development, manufacturing and new production capacity for Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, CoronaVac, as well as other activities, Sinovac said Monday.

Currently, Sinovac can make 300 million doses of CoronaVac a year. But the company hopes to finish building another production facility by the end of 2020 to boost annual capacity to 600 million doses, with the potential to expand output even further in the future.

CoronaVac, an inactivated shot, is one of the front-running COVID-19 vaccines. It's actually been used in China in a secretive emergency use program. Meanwhile, it's undergoing phase 3 trials in Brazil, Chile, Turkey and Indonesia, with supply deals in place with these countries.

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After a safety scare and a temporary trial halt, the Brazil trial has accrued enough cases of infection to trigger a data analysis and is expected to read out interim efficacy results soon, Reuters reported a few days ago, citing trial organizers.

Data from a phase 1/2 trial in China showed that the vaccine, given in two doses 14 days apart, can quickly elicit an immune response. But the neutralizing antibody levels induced by CoronaVac were lower than those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19, according to results published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Still, the researchers believe CoronaVac could offer protection based on their knowledge of other vaccines and data from preclinical studies.

Two other China-made inactivated candidates are also in phase 3 development. They belong to China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a vaccine developer within state-run Sinopharm—not to be confused with Sino Biopharmaceutical, the new investor in Sinovac.

RELATED: China's Sinovac hit by late-stage COVID-19 vaccine halt after reports of a death in Brazilian trial

The two CNBG shots are being tested in several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Peru and Argentina. Sinopharm has said it has enough capacity to make 1 billion doses for the two vaccines combined starting from next year; it has completed two new factories to make that possible.

Sino Biopharmaceutical is known for its “Chia Tai” series of subsidiaries held under the Chia Tai-Tianqing Pharmaceutical umbrella, which has businesses in a wide range of therapeutic areas including antiviral, oncologic, respiratory, metabolic and more.

“The board believes that the capital contribution will introduce a key strategic partner to the Group and expects that both parties will join efforts to expand the partnership in further improving vaccine sales capability, expansion to overseas markets as well as development for new technologies,” Sino Biopharma said in a securities filing (PDF) to the Hong Kong exchange.