The World Health Organization's recent approval of China's first self-developed vaccine against the human papillomavirus is expected to expand affordable access to the cancer-preventing doses in developing countries, officials and experts have said.
The WHO announced last week that it decided to add a two-valent HPV vaccine developed by Xiamen Innovax Biotech based in Fujian province to its prequalification list. The list contains medicines that pass the organization's assessment on efficacy and safety, and are recommended for international procurement agencies.
The newly-added vaccine, called Cecolin, protects against Type 16 and Type 18 HPV, the two most common virus strains causing cervical cancer. It was approved for use on the mainland in December 2019.
The National Medical Products Administration said in a statement on Tuesday that Cecolin is the sixth domestic vaccine product to receive the stamp of approval from the WHO.
"It signifies that China's vaccine supervision, development and manufacturing system, as well as its product quality have won broad recognition from the global community," the administration said.
"Expanding HPV vaccines will benefit all women, particularly those in developing economies, and help drive the realization of the WHO's goal of eliminating cervical cancer," it added.
In November last year, the WHO rolled out a strategy to rid the world of cervical cancer, stressing widespread vaccination among girls, as well as broader screening and treatment.
In order to increase the uptake of vaccines, the organization said concerted efforts are needed to address high vaccine prices and supply constraints.
Yuan Yuan, China's representative of PATH, a global nonprofit organization committed to health equity, said, "HPV vaccines so far have been mainly available on the private market. But with Cecolin, China-and the world-is on its way to more equitable HPV vaccination in girls."
According to PATH, who, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, had provided financial support for the company's application process, only three other HPV vaccines have been prequalified, developed by global pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Merck.
Trevor Mundel, president of the Global Health division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that adding more medicines on the list is "an important step toward making safe and effective HPV vaccines accessible to all, especially women and girls in lower-income countries who are disproportionately impacted by cervical cancer and can have limited access to healthcare".
"Achieving this milestone is a reflection of China's growing efforts to advance global health," he added.
Xiamen University, which jointly developed the vaccine with Xiamen Innovax Biotech, said its researchers are now conducting late stage clinical trials of a second-generation HPV vaccine that can protect against nine virus strains.
Meanwhile, Chinese researchers are researching the world's first 20-valent vaccine, it said.
China has not included HPV vaccination into its national immunization regimen, but the creation of a self-developed vaccine has prompted local authorities to pilot free vaccination programs.
Several cities in Fujian, Jiangxi, Sichuan and Shandong provinces have begun offering free domestic HPV vaccines to young girls, according to local authorities.