Sinopharm chief says COVID-19 vaccine will cost less than $145 for 2-dose regimen

The head of China’s state-owned Sinopharm has put forward a general price range for the group’s two inactivated COVID-19 vaccine candidates now in late-stage development—and it's quite a bit higher than the amounts other shot makers have quoted so far.

“An inactivated vaccine won’t be priced too high,” Sinopharm Chairman Liu Jingzhen told state media Guangming Daily (Chinese). “It’s expected to cost a couple hundred yuan for one shot, and it would be less than 1,000 yuan ($145) for two doses.”

It’s not immediately clear what price Liu was referring to—the out-of-pocket cost or list price. And it’s not yet certain whether Beijing will help cover some of the costs for a pandemic vaccine developed by a state-run company.

In China, free vaccinations are provided, but the no-cost shots are primarily routine childhood immunizations such as polio, MMR, DTaP and meningitis, among others. People must pay the full price for most other vaccines, because they’re not included in the national insurance scheme.

At $145 for a two-dose regimen, Sinopharm’s products would even be more pricey than shots offered in bulk procurement to the U.S., where drugs are generally more expensive.

AstraZeneca, in collaboration with the University of Oxford, previously signed a $1.2 billion deal to produce 300 million doses of its adenovirus vector-based candidate to the U.S. government. That roughly translates into $4 per dose, though the entire grant also covers funding for clinical development.

Johnson & Johnson is offering 100 million doses of its candidate, Ad26.COV2.S, to the U.S. for $1 billion in total, or $10 per dose. Pfizer and German partner BioNTech agreed to ship 100 million doses of their mRNA shot to the U.S. government for $1.95 billion. Moderna said it’s charging between $32 to $37 per dose of its mRNA version to smaller-volume purchases in the single-million dose range, but its 100 million-dose deal with the U.S. came in at $1.525 billion, not including about $1 billion in development funds.

All these Western programs are based on novel technology platforms, whereas Sinopharm’s inactivated vaccines represent a more tried-and-true approach.

RELATED: Sinopharm shares phase 2 data on inactivated COVID-19 vaccine

Sinopharm, through its CNBG unit, has two inactivated vaccine candidates from its biological research institutes in Beijing and Wuhan. They entered phase 1/2 testing in April and delivered preliminary readouts in June.

According to interim phase 2 data recently published in JAMA, the Wuhan shot, at the medium dose, triggered neutralizing antibody at the geometric mean titer of 121 when two doses were given 14 days apart, and 247 when given 21 days apart.

“The antibody titers started to increase after the second injection and further increased after the third injection, suggesting the need for a booster injection,” the researchers wrote in the study. They also noted that the neutralizing antibody levels were comparable with those seen in other studies on candidates from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford.

Sinopharm went to the United Arab Emirates for the phase 3 efficacy trial because the disease has largely been controlled in China. The study has completed its enrollment target of 15,000 volunteers, Emirates News Agency reported on Thursday.

Liu said Sinopharm’s product could reach the market by year's end. That would be a very tight schedule, given that the phase 3 started in late June, and Chinese drug regulators have specified that they want at least six months of protection data.

The company’s facilities in Beijing and Wuhan have enough capacity to make more than 200 million doses a year.