Inside the white, sterile walls of a new building on the southern outskirts of Beijing, two employees donning masks and rubber gloves are busy pipetting a clear, colorless liquid into rows of small vials.
In some areas, the interior fit-out is still underway. Outside, construction vehicles are digging up dirt.
The 215,000 square feet (20,000 square meter) production plant was built in recent months specifically for producing a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech.
CoronaVac, the vaccine candidate from Sinovac, is part of China’s push to be at the forefront of rolling out immunizations against the deadly novel coronavirus – and to demonstrate its scientific prowess.
Scientists globally are racing to find a way to stop to the virus that has infected more than 23 million people and claimed over 800,000 lives. Six vaccine candidates have started Phase 3 clinical trials – the last step of testing to prove efficacy and safety before seeking approval from regulators – and three are Chinese.
CoronaVac’s last-stage trials are being rolled out in Brazil and Indonesia with about 11,000 volunteers.
“If everything goes well, we hope that we can have some results around the end of the year,” said Helen Yang, director of investor relations at Sinovac, from the CoronaVac production plant in the Chinese capital’s Daxing district.
The Nasdaq-listed biotech company began developing its vaccine in late January, less than a week after Wuhan – the original epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak – went into a strict lockdown. Construction of the plant started in March, and Yang said the facility will eventually produce 300 million doses of the vaccine a year, if it is approved by China’s National Medical Products Administration.
CoronaVac uses an old-fashioned approach – employing an inactivated whole virus to prompt the body to develop immunity. The virus is grown under controlled conditions and killed chemically, so it cannot replicate to cause disease when injected into the body. This method has long been proven effective with other viruses, and is still used in polio and flu shots, as well as the rabies vaccine.
A Sinovac spokesperson said the company chose an inactivated vaccine because it was most familiar with this approach.
The US is pushing ahead with a newer type of vaccine made using genetic material from the virus. This type of vaccine is faster to produce, because whole samples of a virus d