Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products – one of China’s largest vaccine manufacturers – recently signed an agreement to become the exclusive maker of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot there, according to the New York Times.
As the partnership gives Kangtai an important role in the deployment of a coronavirus vaccine in the world’s second-largest economy, this is just the latest chapter in the turbulent history of the company led by billionaire President Du Weimin, the newspaper reported on Monday.
Kangtai reportedly made headlines in 2013 when 17 infants died after taking his hepatitis B vaccine. Regulators have cleared the company of his wrongdoing and the vaccine is still used safely, but the incident sparked outrage that led Chinese media and the public to tag Du a. baby-killer, ”according to the Times.
Three years earlier, dozens of elementary school students in China’s Guangdong Province had vomited, headaches and limb weakness after receiving the same blow, according to the report. Health officials reportedly downplayed concerns that the vaccine was linked to diseases, but did not explain how they came to that conclusion until the test results were released.
A global health expert has reportedly said the wave of infant deaths “raises legitimate concerns” about Kangtai at a critical time for the vaccine industry.
“Imagine if a similar scandal were reported again in China,” Yanzhong Huang, senior researcher for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Times. “This will not only undermine the confidence of the company that makes the vaccine, it will also damage the reputation of AstraZeneca itself and its vaccine.”
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. But the British drugmaker maintained its deal with Kangtai in a statement to The Times, saying it “performed proper and thorough due diligence before entering into a deal with an entity.”
“The safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine are of the utmost importance, and AstraZeneca has partnered with knowledgeable and well-established organizations to help ensure broad and equitable global access without profit during the pandemic,” AstraZeneca told the newspaper.
Kangtai’s allegedly summary behavior is not unusual in a Chinese vaccine industry that suffers from corruption and a lack of confidence in its products among the Chinese public, according to the Times, which identified 59 corruption suits involving companies. vaccines from 2018 to 2020.
Du – who has been dubbed the “king of vaccines” in China and is one of the richest men in the country – admitted in court documents that he handed drug regulator Yin Hongzhang a paper bag full of $ 44,000 in cash to get Kangtai’s vaccines approved. , the newspaper reported.
The company was allowed several months later to start clinical trials for two vaccines that were eventually approved and generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue, the report says.
Yin, the regulator, was sent to jail in 2016 for accepting bribes from Du and other vaccine producers – but Du himself was not charged, according to the Times.
In the same year, a Chinese court reportedly convicted journalist Du Taoxin of damaging Du Weimin’s reputation by publishing a critical article on Kangtai.
The reporter reported that regulators delayed their 2010 announcement that around 180,000 doses of a rabies vaccine made by the Du Weimin-owned company were ineffective, so he would have time to sell a controlling stake in the company and to blame the problems, according to Times.
Du Weimin successfully sued Du Taoxin and his newspaper, Democracy and the Rule of Law, who had to suppress the article, The Times reported.
Kangtai did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Monday.