China preps for big push into vaccine market

After years of supplying shots to those within its own borders, China-based vaccine makers are preparing to compete with Western rivals for a slice of the $25.3 billion worldwide vaccine market. In March the World Health Organization ruled that China's State Food and Drug Administration regulation met international standards, opening the door for Chinese vaccine developers who want to market their inexpensive vaccines in other countries.

China boasts 30 vaccine manufacturers capable of producing 1 billion vaccine doses annually, according to the Associated Press. The country's vaccine manufacturing proficiency made news in 2009 when one of its developers was able to produce a swine flu vaccine in just 87 days. And for 20 years a Chinese company has been producing a vaccine against Japanese encephalitis that has fewer side effects than those available elsewhere.

Over the next several years vaccine manufacturers will be upgrading their facilities as they prepare to begin exporting their low-cost vaccines to the rest of the world. "In the short term, everyone sees the exporting opportunities, because outside of China the entire vaccine market still seems to be monopolized by a few Big Pharma (companies)," explained Helen Yang of Sinovac, a Chinese biotech company.

China will have to overcome its less-than-stellar food and drug safety record if it wants to convince the rest of the world that its vaccines are as safe and effective as those produced in other nations. The country has gained a reputation for churning out sub-standard and even deadly products that have lead to massive recalls. "Made in China" vaccines will likely face even tougher hurdles in the U.S. and some European nations where consumers are already wary of domestically-produced shots.

Still, inexpensive vaccines will be a boon to groups like GAVI which seek to bring low-cost shots to underdeveloped nations that couldn't afford them otherwise. China's entrance into the world vaccine market will be a major force of competition for Big Pharma companies that are accustomed to bigger profit margins than their Chinese counterparts. 

- read this AP article