BioNTech and other foreign vaccines are expected to struggle to match the capacity of China’s domestic producers to meet demand from the country’s 1.4bn population © AP

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BioNTech will supply 100m doses of its coronavirus vaccine to Chinese partner Fosun Pharma for use in mainland China next year in the country’s first publicly announced order of a foreign jab against the disease.

Fosun Pharma said on Wednesday that Germany’s BioNTech would supply the doses for use next year to help inoculate China’s 1.4bn people. The group would pay €125m ($152m) for the first 50m doses by December 30, followed by an additional €125m once Chinese regulatory approval was obtained, it said.

The move makes BioNTech’s vaccine the prime international competitor to China’s leading developers in their home market. Beijing-based Sinovac and state-owned group Sinopharm have already begun expanding manufacturing capacity and distributing vaccines.

Fosun Pharma, the Hong Kong and Shanghai-listed healthcare unit of conglomerate Fosun International, became the Chinese partner of BioNTech in March, pledging $135m towards developing a Covid-19 vaccine in return for distribution rights and a share of profits in China.

Zhao Bing, an analyst at Huajing Securities in Shanghai, said imported vaccines were unlikely to have an impact on Chinese producers. International providers were expected to face supply bottlenecks given the huge global demand for vaccines.

“Fosun’s import of the BioNTech vaccine would be more of a supplement than a competitor,” he said. “The strict [temperature] requirements for storage and distribution also limits its use.”

Fosun Pharma in August said it planned to supply 10m doses of the BioNTech vaccine, which uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology to prime the body’s immune system, to Hong Kong and Macau.

The group has reached an agreement with the logistics unit of state-owned pharmaceutical group Sinopharm to establish a cold chain storage and distribution network able to keep the vaccine at the necessary minus 70 degrees Celsius temperatures.

The conclusion of final stage trials by western frontrunners in the global race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and the start of administering programmes in the UK, US and Singapore have damped prospects for Chinese vaccine developers.

China’s frontrunners, with support from Beijing, have made grand promises to distribute their candidates across the developing world, but none of the four leading candidates have concluded large-scale phase 3 safety and efficacy trials, the results of which are necessary to obtain regulatory approval in most countries.

Chinese pharmaceutical groups’ rapid early progress in developing vaccines stalled over the summer, after the country’s mass testing, centralised quarantines and strict curbs on movement essentially halted the spread of the virus and made it near impossible to carry out phase 3 trials in China.

In November, Fosun received Chinese regulatory approval to begin phase 2 clinical trials of the vaccine only days before BioNTech’s phase 3 trials run with US partner Pfizer were deemed conclusive enough to announce a 95 per cent efficacy rate.

Additional reporting by Wang Xueqiao in Shanghai

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