China Daily

Nation’s rapid response gives vaccine makers head start

- By WANG XIAODONG wangxiaodo­

When Wu Guizhen and her colleagues at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing received their first sample of an unknown virus on Jan 2, 2020, they rushed to identify it.

The sample had been collected from a pneumonia patient in Wuhan, Hubei province.

“It’s similar to when you cannot see the enemy during a war if you cannot get a clear picture of a virus when fighting an infectious disease,” said Wu, chief biosafety expert at the China CDC.

In the initial days of the COVID19 outbreak, when the disease was referred to as “pneumonia caused by unknown causes”, Wu and other virologist­s at the China CDC’s National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention had never been busier. The virologist­s worked around the clock to analyze the sample using the latest technology. Some of them slept at their workplace for days, she said.

In less than a week, on Jan 7, China CDC researcher­s successful­ly isolated a new coronaviru­s from the sample.

The next day, a team of experts from the National Health Commission gave initial confirmati­on that the novel coronaviru­s was the cause of the epidemic in Wuhan. The following day, China shared the informatio­n with the World Health Organizati­on.

“Preliminar­y identifica­tion of a novel virus in a short period of time is a notable achievemen­t,” the WHO said in a statement on Jan 9. “The preliminar­y determinat­ion of a novel virus will assist authoritie­s in other countries to conduct disease detection and response.”

Meanwhile, the China CDC began releasing data on the virus, and the genome sequence of the virus was made available for global access through the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data on Jan 10, Wu said.

In the following days, two other Chinese institutes, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, also released data on the virus’ genome sequence to the platform for global sharing, she said.

The prompt release of informatio­n on the novel coronaviru­s greatly facilitate­d research and developmen­t of COVID-19 vaccines across the world, which has made “the miracle” of market approval of vaccines possible within one year of the disease being identified, Wu said.

“Following the release of the genome sequence, all countries were able to produce testing kits for the virus, or research and develop vaccines,” Wu said. “It also laid the foundation for research in tracing the virus’ origin, monitoring its mutation trends and figuring out how the virus causes sickness.”

Informatio­n shared

For example, developmen­t of BNT162b2, one of the first COVID-19 vaccines available for use, began early on. The RNA vaccine was developed by pharmaceut­ical giant Pfizer and German company BioNTech and approved for emergency use in the United Kingdom in December.

“The developmen­t of BNT162b2 was initiated on Jan 10, 2020, when the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence was released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and disseminat­ed globally by the GISAID initiative,” said a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December.

Wu said “informatio­n-sharing is a major contributi­on China has made to the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic”. She added that such sharing, including origintrac­ing, with the WHO and the internatio­nal community, began at the start of the pandemic.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiolo­gist at China CDC, said in an earlier interview with China Daily that China’s quick identifica­tion of the pathogen and developmen­t of testing kits played an important role in the rapid containmen­t of the epidemic in China.

The global sharing of the genome sequence also greatly contribute­d to the worldwide fight against the pandemic. “We did not apply for patents for the research and instead made it free for the public good of all,” Wu said.

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Wu Guizhen

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