Fitch Raises Political Ties In Covid Vaccine Deals, Including Malaysian Bamboo Company

Bamboo product manufacturer Kanger International Berhad, whose chairman is Johor Umno deputy chief Nur Jazlan Mohamed, has signed a three-year licence agreement with China’s Sinopharm for its Covid-19 candidate vaccine.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 5 — Malaysia has been listed among Asia Pacific countries that are increasingly signing Covid-19 vaccine access agreements, including with China drugmakers, according to Fitch Solutions.

A report from Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research, a unit of Fitch Group, highlighted the emergence of Chinese pharmaceutical companies Sinopharm and Sinovac as suppliers of coronavirus vaccines in the Asia Pacific region.

“The recent agreements indicate that countries with ties to China through its Health Silk Road project, part of the wider Belt and Road Initiative, will have easier access to vaccines being developed in China,” said Fitch Solutions in its October 2 report, as it observed “proximity and political ties playing a role in agreements”.

The research firm noted that China premier Li Keqiang had promised last August priority access to Chinese vaccines in development to lower Mekong countries — Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.

Fitch Solutions highlighted Kanger International Berhad — a Malaysian bamboo flooring manufacturer whose operational headquarters are located in Shenzhen, China — that announced last September 29 a three-year licence agreement with China-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm to distribute, promote, and market its Covid-19 vaccine in Malaysia. Sinopharm’s candidate vaccine is currently in Phase Three clinical trials.

The agreement — which will be effective until September 24, 2023 — will also grant the priority right of purchase of Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine to Kanger, if there are multiple purchasers that want the product from Sinopharm.

Kanger, a public listed company, appointed last September 28 Johor Umno deputy chief, Nur Jazlan Mohamed, as its new chairman. Nur Jazlan, a former Pulai MP, was previously deputy home minister from 2015 to 2018 and has been on the board of several listed companies like Prinsiptek Bhd, Jaycorp Bhd, and Telekom Malaysia Bhd.

Kanger is not a medical or health care company, but a bamboo product company which does bamboo flooring, bamboo furniture, bamboo door, and bamboo handicrafts, among others.

Fitch Solutions stated that the value of the Kanger-Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine deal in Malaysia and the quantity of the vaccine doses were undisclosed.

Former Health deputy director-general (public health) Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman has warned the Malaysian government not to compromise national and economic security in any bilateral negotiation for a Covid-19 vaccine.

Sinopharm had initiated their Phase Three clinical trial for the Covid-19 vaccine on July 17, which puts it on a similar timeline to candidates in development from Moderna and Pfizer, which both entered their Phase Three studies on July 27.

Sinopharm chairman Liu Jingzhen reportedly said in August that he expects Sinopharm’s vaccine to be in the market by December 2020.

According to Fitch Solutions, data from Phase One/Two trials of Sinopharm’s coronavirus candidate vaccine showed that it was able to stimulate a robust immune system with only limited safety concerns. Adverse effects seen were low-grade symptoms, such as fever and pain at the injection site, with no other serious adverse effects.

Besides Malaysia, many other Asia Pacific countries have also made agreements with different companies to procure a Covid-19 vaccine, as below:

  • Thailand: Licence agreement with AstraZeneca
  • Vietnam: Advance purchase with Gamaleya Institute (Russia)
  • Singapore: Clinical trial location with Arcturus Therapeutics
  • Japan: Fill-finish with AstraZeneca, licence agreement with Moderna, licence agreement with Novavax, and advance purchase with Pfizer/BioNTech
  • Indonesia: Advance purchase with Sinovac
  • China: Licence agreement with AstraZeneca
  • India: Licence agreement with AstraZeneca

In April this year, Malaysian property company Titijaya Land Bhd signed a five-year agreement with Sinopharm Medical Equipment QuanZhou Co. Ltd, under the Sinopharm Group, to develop a business involved in trading and distribution of medical and hospital equipment, along with medical-related real estate.

The agreement focused on supplying equipment like personal protective equipment (PPE), RT-PCR test kits, rapid test kits, mobile test labs and other equipment necessary in curbing the Covid-19 outbreak.

Then, in August, Titijaya had unusual market activity when the company’s share price jumped by 140 per cent. Upon query by Bursa Securities, the company claimed that it was in the midst of diversification into health care products, including glove supply.

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