The Story of Fosun and the Nobel Prize

Hong Kong, Oct 5, 2023 – (ACN Newswire via – Following pioneering breakthroughs in basic science, companies are often needed to carry out technological innovation and commercialization to turn scientific breakthroughs into products that improve the living conditions of mankind.

At around 17:45 on 2 October 2023, Beijing time, the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2023 were announced. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2023 was awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, two scientists who have long been dedicated to the research of mRNA technology, for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications in mRNA.

What is nucleoside base modification? You may not be familiar with it, but we all know about the mRNA vaccine that saved countless people during the COVID-19 pandemic. The scientific breakthroughs made by the two Nobel Laureates this year in 2005 played a crucial role in the research and development (R&D) of the world’s first mRNA vaccine by BioNTech, a German Biotechnology company during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

It is no exaggeration to say that this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is an award for the development of the first mRNA vaccine. While scientific breakthroughs serve as the foundation for successful vaccine development, the contribution of enterprises is equally important. There is a global company rooted in China that can be considered as the hero behind the successfully R&D of mRNA vaccine.

The company is Fosun, the first company to reach a cooperation in the R&D of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech, a German biotechnology company during the pandemic. In fact, the story of Fosun and the Nobel Prize goes beyond the development of mRNA vaccine.

Artesunate was developed by Guilin Pharma, a subsidiary of Fosun, on the basis of Tu Youyou’s, a renowned Chinese scientist and Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine in 2015, discovery of artemisinin. To date, artesunate has treated nearly 56 million severe malaria patients worldwide, most of whom are children in Africa.

Targeting the development of mRNA vaccine within one month of the outbreak

Let us start with the story of Fosun and the first mRNA vaccine.

On 23 January 2020, Wuhan imposed a closed-loop management system due to the severe epidemic situation. While Fosun launched a global anti-epidemic operation and urgently deployed global anti-epidemic materials to China, it capitalized on its cutting-edge vision and sound judgment to focus the R&D of mRNA vaccine, hoping to leverage this innovative technology to develop an effective vaccine against the virus.

The epidemic was severe at the time. On 29 January, less than a week after Wuhan imposed a rigorous management system, Fosun Pharma urgently communicated with the German company BioNTech on the R&D of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The two parties quickly reached a consensus and established a collaborative partnership in mid-February to work jointly on the development of the mRNA vaccine. On 13 March, Fosun Pharma and BioNTech officially entered into a cooperation agreement and jointly announced it three days later, which was three days before the cooperation between BioNTech and Pfizer of the United States.

According to the strategic cooperation agreement reached by Fosun Pharma and BioNTech in March 2020,  the two Companies will work jointly on the development of COVID-19 vaccines based on BioNTech’s mRNA technology platform in China. The Companies will collaborate to conduct clinical trials in China leveraging Fosun Pharma’s extensive clinical development, regulatory, and commercial capabilities in the country.

During the course of global joint R&D, Fosun Pharma also cooperated with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences to complete animal testing of multiple mRNA vaccine candidates, and conducted in-depth cooperation with BioNTech in clinical research, pharmacological data science, pharmacovigilance and other areas. It also took the lead in carrying out phase I and phase II clinical trials in Chinese mainland. The successful development of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine embodies the wisdom of the Chinese scientific research teams and is one of the model projects of Sino-German scientific cooperation.

In November 2020, good news came amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic: the final analysis of the phase III clinical trial of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine showed that it was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. Subsequently, the vaccine was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA), becoming the first mRNA vaccine for emergency use.

On 23 August 2021, BioNTech announced that the Biologics License Application (BLA) for COMIRNATY (mRNA COVID-19 vaccine) for use in individuals 16 years of age and older to prevent COVID-19 infection was approved by the U.S. FDA. COMIRNATY is the first COVID-19 vaccine to be granted approval by the FDA, and also the first officially approved COVID-19 vaccine in the world with complete phase III data.

Since the beginning of 2021, COMIRNATY (mRNA COVID-19 vaccine) has been successively launched in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan region, building an immune barrier for the regions. As of the end of May 2023, more than 40 million doses of COMIRNATY were administered in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan region and COMIRNATY became one of the most widely used vaccines in the aforementioned regions.

A “Chinese drug” that has treated more than 56 million severe malaria patients

Let us move on to the story of Fosun and artemisinin.

Malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS are among the three major infectious diseases in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, every 2 minutes, a child in the world dies from malaria. The discovery of artemisinin has enabled mankind to discover a new weapon against malaria, and has also brought hope to Africa’s battle with malaria.

The discovery and development of artemisinin marks a major event in the history of malaria prevention and treatment, and represents a major breakthrough after quinoline-containing antimalarial drugs. Chinese scientist Tu Youyou was awarded China’s Highest Science and Technology Award and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 for the discovery of artemisinin.

Many people do not know that Guangxi in China is rich in Artemisia annua, and Guilin Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. (“Guilin Pharma”), a member company of Fosun Pharma located in Guilin, Guangxi, has made a significant contribution to the decline in global malaria morbidity and mortality. Based on the discovery of artemisinin, Guilin Pharma successfully developed artesunate in 1977, which solved the problem of water solubility of artemisinin compounds and increased the efficacy of malaria treatment by seven folds, becoming China’s no.1 new drug.

Fosun, which has continued the efforts of Tu Youyou’s team, played an important role in promoting the internationalization of innovative artemisinin-based drugs. In 2004, Fosun Pharma saw the international strategic value of the new drug and embarked on the journey of continuous innovation and internationalization of artesunate products through the restructuring of Guilin Pharma. Fosun is committed to bringing high-quality, affordable antimalarial drugs to the African people and working with the African people to build a malaria-free world.

Under the guidance of World Health Organization (WHO) experts, Artesun, artesunate for injection received WHO Prequalification (WHO PQ) in 2010. In early 2011, WHO revised the Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria and changed the first-line treatment from quinine to artesunate for injection for adults and children with severe malaria.

Over the past 20 years, thanks to the widespread use of a variety of new-generation malaria prevention tools and treatments, including Artesun, artesunate for injection, malaria mortality in Africa has dropped by approximately 37.3% between 2000 and 2020 (data source: WHO’s official website). According to WHO data, the average life expectancy in African countries had increased by 9.4 years since 2000, reflecting the important contribution of China-developed artemisinin-based antimalarial drugs.

Today, Artesun, artesunate for injection has become the international gold standard for the treatment of severe malaria and the preferred drug for the treatment of severe malaria recommended by the WHO. As of the end of 2022,  Artesun, artesunate for injection, also known as the “anti-malarial miracle drug from China”, has treated more than 56 million severe malaria patients around the world, most of whom are African children under the age of 5.

As an innovation-driven pharmaceutical company, Fosun Pharma continues to improve the R&D of artesunate products. In June 2023, the second-generation artesunate for injection self-developed by Fosun Pharma, Argesun became the first artesunate injectable presented with a single solvent system to receive WHO PQ and has already been registered in 16 countries, further improving the accessibility of high-quality innovative antimalarial drugs and saving more lives.

“China opportunities” for pharmaceutical innovation and R&D

The story of Fosun and the two Nobel Prizes gives us another perspective on the relationship between scientific research and business. Following pioneering breakthroughs in basic science, companies are often needed to carry out technological innovation and commercialization to turn scientific breakthroughs into products that improve the living conditions of mankind. Through cooperation of scientists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and bioengineers; scientific research, development, and clinical trials; Germany, China, the United States, we have jointly created the breakthrough of a new generation of vaccines and effectively responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Fosun, it is Tu Youyou’s discovery of artemisinin that led to the development of artesunate, a malaria treatment with seven-fold increased efficacy, and its anti-malarial efforts in Africa; it is the discovery of nucleoside base modifications in mRNA that led to the development of mRNA vaccines; and after responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, mRNA technology is expected to lead to the emergence of vaccines for influenza and even various types of cancer, bringing greater health benefits for all people.

Fosun has always been regarded as a company with diversified businesses. In fact, since its establishment in 1992, the health segment has been the core area in which Fosun continues to develop. After the R&D of PCR hepatitis B reagents brought Fosun the “first bucket of gold”, innovative R&D has also become Fosun’s development strategy and core competitiveness.

For more than 30 years, Fosun has been focusing on cutting-edge medical fields and continues to promote the development and commercialization of innovative technologies and products through independent R&D, cooperative development, license-in, and in-depth incubation. After years of high-intensity investment, coupled with a cutting-edge vision of globalization, Fosun has established multiple R&D teams around the world to promote R&D day and night, and has finally continued to reap innovative achievements in recent years.

In addition to artesunate and mRNA vaccines, Fosun Pharma’s innovative products cover core therapeutic areas such as tumors, immunology, central nervous system, and chronic diseases. In the first half of 2023, Fosun Pharma had a total of 5 innovative drugs (indications) and 10 generic drugs approved for launch.

HANSIZHUANG (serplulimab injection), the first biopharmaceutical innovative drug self-developed by Fosun Pharma, became the world’s first monoclonal antibody drug targeting PD-1 for first-line treatment of extensive-stage small cell lung cancer and has been approved for multiple indications. China’s first CAR-T cell therapy product, Yi Kai Da (ejilunsai injection), has also obtained approval for second-line indication in China, which will benefit more Chinese lymphoma patients.

In the field of professional treatment, Intuitive Fosun, a joint venture of Fosun Pharma, continues its efforts to realize localization of medical treatment. The da Vinci Surgical System will be locally manufactured in Shanghai.

Fosun, which has long embraced globalization and promoted technology innovation and R&D, is becoming an important innovation force among Chinese enterprises. At present, the constantly improving innovative drug R&D and regulatory ecosystem in China, the continuous convergence of drug regulatory system with international standards, together with favorable policies for innovative drugs are driving growth for innovative companies like Fosun, which will foster more Chinese innovation and Chinese opportunities in the future.

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