China has granted emergency approval for a Pfizer Covid-19 pill in a promising sign that the country could open up further to foreign vaccines and treatments for the virus.
The import registration for Paxlovid was approved on Friday, the National Medical Products Administration said in a statement on its website on Saturday. The Chinese regulator requires relevant research work to continue to be carried out, with conditional requirements completed within a time limit, and the follow-up research results submitted in a timely manner, according to the statement.
The emergency approval is the first that China has given to a drug or vaccine developed by a foreign country for Covid-19. The mRNA Covid vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, for which Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group holds the rights to distribute in Greater China, has not yet been approved in the country.
China’s homegrown efforts to develop Covid antivirals have largely lagged those of the West, with the most advanced still in the final stage of trials at sites outside of the country. Such treatments could be critical to help China move away from its zero-Covid approach to managing the virus.
After containing the virus with mass testing, surveillance and rigid border curbs, China is now uniquely vulnerable to the pathogen as it has little natural protection from prior infections. The country’s vaccination campaign has also relied on homegrown inactivated inoculations that have been less effective at blocking infections than the highly potent mRNA shots that are widely used elsewhere.
In December, China approved a homegrown antibody therapy that needs to be administered through intravenous injections at hospitals. The two treatments co-developed by Brii Biosciences were approved for use on adults and teenage patients in mild to moderate cases.