Meet Innovax, China's First HPV Vaccine Developer
COVID-19 and China
Military doctor vaccinates a woman. Image: Credit to Shutterstock

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer – a type of cancer diagnosed more in China per year than in any other country, accounting for around  20% of all cases worldwide in 2018. The Chinese regulatory authority has approved the first China-made vaccine for HPV, developed by Innovax.

HPV is formidable as it can be transmitted through contact despite the use of protection such as condoms.

The privately-held Chinese Biotech firm will provide another alternative to Merck- and GsK-made vaccines in China, in a move to address excess demand with a domestic and cheaper option. The move by the Chinese regulators is strategic, aiming to break the foreign dominance in the mainland HPV vaccine market while addressing the county's chronic cervical cancer problem.

The market in the mainland is growing, unprecedentedly. The sudden awareness promoted by NGOs and government meant many learned about the possibility of preventing cancer with a simple vaccine. Yet the abrupt jump in the demand brought about the excess demand as well.

"I had to wait over three months to get injected in a public hospital in Beijing," reports an EqualOcean colleague. "There are age-specific criteria to get injected as well," she added.

The first Chinese makers of HPV vaccines, Xiamen Innovax Biotech, have long been technically and financially supported by other pharmaceutical institutes in developing the vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the world's largest HPV Vaccine provider, along with Merck in-licensed Innovax's vaccine first in September 2019.

"The next generation adjuvanted" HPV vaccine, named Cecolin, was debuted to much fanfare in September. The other flagship product of the firm is a recombinant hepatitis E vaccine under the trade name Hecolin. That has already been launched outside China.

Cecolin will be on the market with a price of CNY 329 for one injection – almost half of the ones provided by GsK and Merck in China, Gardasil, and Cervarix.

Merck generated USD 1.4 billion from Gardasil in the third quarter of 2019 worldwide, making it the company's second-largest revenue generation source after the Immunotherapy antibody Keytruda, which generated over USD 3 billion for the American firm.

Innovax is the vaccine arm of a Beijing-based biotech company Wantai Biopharm (万泰生物), a manufacturer of in-vitro diagnostics of infectious diseases, including HIV. The parent's long-awaited IPO on the Shanghai Stock Exchange was approved by the Chinese regulatory watchdog last December (2019), on the eve of Innovax's regulatory success.

We expect, and hope, that the low-cost domestic HPV vaccine candidates from China, like Cecolin, will proliferate.  They may well play a major role in eradicating cervical cancer from China in the 21st century. 

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