China fights flu with Canadian biotech

China: Vaccination nation
China: Vaccination nation

No one should doubt China’s commitment to become a giant in health care. Last week, a group of officials from Hunan Province, led by Deputy Mayor of Changsha, He Jihua, visited MaRS prior to announcing a blockbuster deal for the production of seasonal influenza vaccine.

Microbix, their Toronto-based partner, developed a process to dramatically increase influenza vaccine yields.  Together, Microbix and Hunan Biopharmaceutial Co. announced a joint venture to build a $200-million facility in Changsha National Biomedical Park, beginning in early 2010. With the capacity to produce more than 100 million doses a year, the project will become the largest facility for producing influenza vaccine in Asia, growing its annual production to 500 million doses in five years.

For China – where only two per cent of the population is immunized against seasonal flu – there was a compelling reason to design its pandemic preparedness around Microbix. The Canadian biotech’s VIROMAX technology effectively doubles the vaccine yields produced by conventional methods. The commercialization of this technology in a country with such a low level of immunization will position the joint venture for enormous growth.

If the potential of the project is realized, China will vault to the top ranks of seasonal flu vaccine production world-wide. As it did in manufacturing, China is evolving from being a minor player to taking a leading role – this time in public health.  As for Microbix, a small company with a winning technology, the prospect of having a global impact is very real.

It’s worth noting that as Canada’s health care system is being challenged by a slower than expected deployment of the H1N1 vaccine, a Canadian company is making its mark in China accelerating the production of seasonal flu remedies.