When will a COVID vaccine be ready? The fourth quarter or early 2021, top Chinese vaccine executive says

A COVID-19 vaccine will likely be available to the public by this winter, said Dr. Aimin Hui, vice president of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Development on a virtual call for Fortune’s Global Tech Forum on Thursday.

“The evidence suggests that one or more vaccines will be available to the public in the fourth quarter this year or early next year,” Hui said.

Fosun Pharma is a Chinese pharmaceutical company that has partnered with American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the German vaccine maker BioNTech to co-develop an mRNA vaccine that is currently in late-stage trials.

Hui said that 25,000 participants already have enrolled in the candidate’s phase III trials, which are intended to test the efficacy and safety of a vaccine on tens of thousands of human volunteers. He expects to see results from the trials as early as October.

“The data on early clinical trials are promising,” Hui said. “It is highly likely there will be one or more vaccines getting [Food and Drug Administration] approval in the next few months.”

Hui’s comments follow Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s Wednesday remarks to Fortune, in which he said there is a 60% chance that Pfizer, Fosun Pharma, and BioNtech would know by the end of October whether the vaccine they are producing is effective and safe enough to bring to market.

Currently, there are nine vaccine candidates in phase III trials, and vaccine executives have been increasingly optimistic that at least one will be approved for widespread use in coming months.

In August, Liu Jingzhen, CEO of Sinopharm told Chinese media that he expects his company’s vaccine candidate, one of the nine in phase III, to reach market before the end of 2020.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Sariot told reporters this week that he expects the candidate his company is producing in partnership with Oxford University to be ready to submit to regulators this year, even after a sick patient caused a delay in phase III trials this week.

Hui called the global effort to produce a vaccine “unprecedented,” and other panelists said that condensing the years-long development process into less than 12 months has only been possible through collaboration between scientists and companies around the world.

“Never before in mankind’s history have we had so much technology, so many scientists, so many companies, so many countries, and so much money focused on one single infectious disease,” panelist Dr. Chen Ling, head of Chinese vaccine maker Guangzhou nBiomed Medicine Technology, said on the Thursday call.

Chen explained that the scale of the global effort gives him confidence that a vaccine will eventually reach market. But he cautioned that after a vaccine is approved, public health officials will face another enormous task: manufacturing and distributing it to the entire world. Chen called on leaders beyond healthcare and government to contribute to the vaccine effort since they will reap the rewards of the world returning to ‘normal.’

“We need to find a mechanism for CEOs in industries [impacted by the pandemic] to facilitate or accelerate processes for logistics and pricing,” said Chen. Aviation, tourism, and hospitality sectors worldwide will benefit once a vaccine is available to the public, Chen argued, so companies in such industries should provide financial support to the development and distribution of a vaccine.

“If [these industries] chipped in with 10% of the losses” incurred in the pandemic, it could make a huge difference in speeding up the distribution of a potential vaccine, said Chen. “Someone should take a leap to make this happen.”

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