China's Sinovac gains land and loans to speed up work on coronavirus vaccine

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, April 23 (Reuters) - China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd, which has approval to begin clinical trials of an experimental vaccine for the new coronavirus, said it plans to have a new production facility ready this year after quickly obtaining land and loans.

Its Beijing-based unit aims to make up to 100 million shots a year if the vaccine is shown to be effective. If it isn’t successful, the buildings and equipment will be used to make other types of vaccines.

Sinovac, founded in 2001, has previously developed vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, H1N1 influenza and gained approval to sell them in China.

The Nasdaq-listed company received a low-interest rate credit line for 60 million yuan ($8.5 million) from the Bank of Beijing and the company has invested a similar amount in the project.

It had also secured access to more than 70,000 square metres of land and property sourced for the firm by the Daxing district government in Beijing. The company plans a large production complex for multiple vaccines with one plant devoted to the coronavirus vaccine should it be successful.

“It took one, two weeks for the (local government) decision,” a Sinovac official told Reuters, declining to be identified, citing company policy. “Previously, two years wouldn’t have been long enough to complete negotiations.”

It received approval from Chinese authorities last week to conduct early stage tests for the potential coronavirus vaccine.

Two other Chinese firms, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, an affiliate of state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group and Hong Kong-listed biotech firm CanSino Bio, have also gained approval to start clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines.

Lin Jinzhong, a professor at the School of Life Sciences in Fudan University said he believed it was a good idea to ramp up manufacturing capacity even though all current vaccine candidates are so far unproven.

Success could mean huge demand of perhaps more than 100 million people lining up for a shot, he said.

“The next bottleneck is - how can you manufacture so many vaccines?” he said. “If we don’t pay attention to this issue in advance, there will be problems in the future.”

Shares in Sinovac have been suspended from trade since Feb. 22 when it said was amending a shareholder rights plan.

$1 = 7.0846 Chinese yuan Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Brenda Goh; additional reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Edwina Gibbs