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Shanghai-based Everest Medicines said it signed a licence agreement with Providence Therapeutics to make and sell the Canadian biotechnology company’s potential mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in some Asian countries including China.

Interim data from an early-stage human trial outside China has showed Providence’s shot PTX-COVID19-B was safe and produced strong antibody responses, Everest said in a statement on Monday.

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines prompt the body to make a protein that is part of the virus, triggering an immune response. Companies including Pfizer and BioNTech, and Moderna use mRNA technology in their COVID-19 shots.

China is yet to approve an mRNA COVID-19 shot. It has fully vaccinated nearly 70 per cent of its 1.4 billion population as of Sept. 6, using shots mainly from Sinopharm and Sinovac.

At least four potential mRNA COVID-19 shots are already being tested in China, including three domestically developed candidates and one from BioNTech and its local partner Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Groups.

Providence will be paid $50-million in cash upfront for PTX-COVID19-B and other COVID-19 mRNA vaccine candidates targeting specific variants that haven’t yet entered clinical trials. It will also receive up to $100-million in profit-sharing initially, and more in royalties later.

Everest expects to complete building a factory by the end of this year in eastern Zhejiang province to make the vaccine, with an annual capacity to produce “a couple of hundred millions” doses, Everest Chief Executive Kerry Blanchard told Reuters.

The timeline for setting up production lines depended on when the two companies complete the technology transfer, he said.

India’s Biological E. announced in June a licencing deal with Providence to manufacture its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in the South Asian nation.

Apart from China, Everest has obtained rights for Providence’s COVID-19 vaccine candidates for more than 10 countries including Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, where vaccination rates are low, and Singapore.

The two companies will also collaborate on two other preventive or therapeutic products, likely in infectious disease areas, and Everest will also use Providence’s mRNA platform to develop more treatments.

For these additional collaborations Providence will get $50-million upfront in cash and up to $300-million in future milestone payments in newly issued Everest stock.

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